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Counting on quality

Published on Friday, 07 Mar 2014
Frontline banking positions are falling in popularity with young jobseekers, who fear stressful conditions.
Photo: Bloomberg
Paul Go
Elizabeth Alam
Beryl Chan

Banks and Big Four firms offered opportunities at the forum

In recent years, the banking sector has seen the need to make the industry more attractive to younger jobseekers. Promoting employer brands and offering fast-track career opportunities to aspiring young minds are just two of the measures banks use to fill their talent gaps.

"Hong Kong has undergone a lot of changes in recent years," said Beryl Chan, head of HR and executive vice-president at Wing Lung Bank. "Among the older generation, banking is seen as a prestigious industry. But now, young people are reluctant to work as frontline bank staff because of the rise in customer complaints and the stress of meeting sales targets."

Wing Lung Bank, one of the exhibitors at the Career Forum, expects to recruit about 10 people to its graduate trainee programme this year.

"The programme is entering its fourth year. So far, the quality of the participants has been very promising. Most of them have shown strong interest in the banking industry, especially in cross-border financial markets," Chan said.

This year, the bank is offering trainee positions in five different streams: commercial banking, retail banking, corporate banking, treasury and financial institutions. Trainees undergo classroom and on-the-job training, with attachment opportunities in various departments, as well as at mainland branches.

Chan says graduates who joined the programme in previous years have enjoyed an early boost to their banking careers. "For instance, a graduate who took the commercial banking stream was able to gain a good grasp of our products and basic skills in customer service during the trainee programme. They subsequently took up the position of relationship manager and began leading a small team after the two-year training," she said.

Candidates must show confidence and a commitment to the banking industry - in particular to cross-border business. "They have to be prepared to work hard, as banks need to follow stringent regulatory requirements and meet high expectations from customers," Chan said.

Standard Chartered Bank also offered graduate job opportunities at the forum. Its international graduate programme, consumer-bank fast-track programme, local programmes and internships receive an overwhelming response from candidates both locally and regionally.

The application process may include a phone interview, which applicants may find difficult to handle. Elizabeth Alam, the bank's regional head of graduate recruitment for northeast Asia, offered a few tips.

"Take your time. If you can't hear or don't understand the question, it is no problem saying: 'I don't understand, please repeat the question,' or 'could you slow down.' Writing down some of the points interviewers raise can be helpful. And try to be as warm as possible, as the difference in personality comes through [your voice]," Alam said during one of the forum's Leadership Forum sessions.

Competition to land a job at a Big Four accounting firm remains strong. Paul Go, partner, assurance, at EY, says EY receives more than 1,000 applications from accounting majors every year, as well as from others majoring in business or other disciplines.

"You don't need to be the top student, but you do need to show a strong commitment to the industry to convince employers to choose you over the other candidates," Go said in a separate sharing session on how to prepare for the changing accounting profession.

Traditionally known as "bean counters", accountants are part of a close-knit and respected profession. "It is stable, it gives you decent earnings and is a solid foundation for diversified career opportunities. But it faces constant change," Go said. Such changes are driven by cyclical financial crises, regulatory reforms, new technologies, the emergence of the Chinese market, and higher expectations among the general public and stakeholders.

These drivers of change have made accountancy more competitive. Go advises jobseekers to have "real commitment to long working hours and tedious work", knowing "what you give will be what you get".

He also encouraged aspiring graduates to look for cross-border work experience which can "definitely help you in building personal development and exploring opportunities in the mainland". Finally, he reminded his audience that the "Big Four" is a brand and comparing their sizes is unnecessary. "Each has its own culture and advantages, and you are advised to talk to people working there to see whether it is a cultural fit for you," he said.

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