"It is not a question of which qualification is better than another," says Kingston Ho, senior risk manager with an international investment bank.
"It is a question of which qualification is the right one to secure employment in the area a job-seeker would like to work in."
Speaking at a forum on "How Fresh Graduates Win a Job Offer in the Financial Industry", organised by Kornerstone last month, Ho told the audience they should consider whether they should spend many years studying, or opt for a combination of on-the-job training that would enable them to study for further qualifications. "From an employer's perspective, a candidate with good qualifications and a good attitude towards learning financial skills can be more attractive than someone with lots of qualifications and little experience," says Ho.
There is sometimes a herd mentality towards studying for certain qualifications, he says.
With no firm rules set out for success, Ho says time spent studying for a master's degree could be time lost in gaining on-the-job experience.
After embarking on an intensive Asian hiring spree, which saw JP Morgan increase its Hong Kong headcount by about 700, the banking firm has significantly revised its training programmes.
Kwang Kam-shing, market manager for Hong Kong at JP Morgan Private Bank, says because of rapid growth, the banking firm had implemented a more systematic approach for delivering training and career development programmes.
While relying strongly on its two-flagship interdisciplinary analyst programme and associate training programmes, which include attending training classes in New York, Kwang says there is a strong focus on training that encourages a sense of bonding and solidarity.
Lieven Debruyne, CEO at Schroders Investment Management in Hong Kong, is another finance professional who believes investment in graduate training programmes is a valuable way of developing a talent pipeline. He says Schroders Greater China graduate trainee programme, launched two years ago, is an intensive selection process, which includes ability tests, group and individual interviews from the firm's London assessment team as well as Asian department heads. Successful candidates spend the first year in London where they are attached to the global programme and spend the second year working in Schroders' Asian operations.
Fast-paced growth across a wide range of business activities has created a demand for both fresh graduates and more experienced staff at Citic Bank International. "We are always interested in talking to top talent for a diverse range of job roles," says Winsome Ha, general manager, sales and distribution, Retail Banking Group, Citic Bank International (CBI).
"We want people who join the company to immediately feel welcome and supported. We realise how important it is to provide them with strong back-up and support their career development," Ha says.
CBI values job candidates who are self-motivated and can demonstrate good interpersonal skills and a will-to-win attitude. Those who have had a few years' experience or equipped with a professional certificate, such as a licence to sell insurance, are also in demand.
"We look for people who want to develop their careers and have a long-term perspective," Ha says. During interviews, Ha suggests that job-seekers present themselves honestly and not be afraid to reveal their strengths and weaknesses.
Thomas Atterstam, Prudential Group head of talent and senior management development, says generating connectivity between senior management and younger high-potential management employees has proven to be a winning combination. "Our approach to drive talent and leadership development across the group is focused on sharing the learning experience across the different layers of the business and with people at different stages in their careers," he says.
ABCs of MBA, CPA, CFA
Don't let professional qualifications overwhelm you. Focus, assess and pick the best for your career plans
Deciding which banking and finance qualification is going to provide the best career development opportunities can be an overwhelming experience. With so many qualifications to choose from, it is generally recognised a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation could lead to a career as a chief financial officer or even a chief executive officer. Meanwhile, a Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) could be more appropriate for someone set on becoming a portfolio manager or financial products engineer.
While a quality MBA is considered another way of making headway in the banking and finance industry, it is also considered a useful tool for those aspiring to be a corporate executive. With employers looking for value-added abilities from job seekers, front-line sales candidates who passed an Insurance Intermediaries Qualifying Examination (IIQE) are preferred. The qualification is for those who advise customers on insurance matters.
Increasingly, experience and exposure in Basel III is also considered an advantage for job-seekers. For those looking for a career in financial planning, the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) qualification offered by the Institute of Financial Planners of Hong Kong through approved institutions is considered a leading qualification in the industry. Certificate candidates must develop their theoretical and practical financial planning knowledge by completing a comprehensive education programme.
With Islamic banking and finance expected to continue growing in Asia, job-seekers looking to equip themselves with a niche qualification might consider studying for one of several options, including a Certified Islamic Professional Accountant (CIPA) track, which is available to non-Muslims.
Martin Cerullo, managing director, development for Asia-Pacific with recruitment firm Alexander Mann Solutions, notes that leading banks are placing more emphasis on soft skills in addition to qualifications.
"We are seeing banks and finance firms widening the scope of what they expect from new recruits. In addition to having appropriate qualifications, other requirements are communication skills, problem-solving ability, teamwork potential, business awareness, interest in customer service and leadership potential. They want people capable of delivering new ideas that will take them ahead of their competitors," Cerullo says. Because many large financial firms have global operations, graduates can expect overseas postings, so being culturally sensitive is a big plus.