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Taking care of clients' needs

Published on Thursday, 03 Jun 2010
Illustration: Bay Leung

In banking and finance, relationship managers come in many colours, shapes and sizes. There are the grey-suited bankers who deal in corporate banking, bespoke suit-wearing private bankers catering to high-net-worth individuals, and their retail banking cousins who cater to the needs of the general public.

However, at the end of the day, their jobs are more similar than they are different, says Levina Poon, recruitment firm Hudson's director for banking and financial services.

"A relationship manager is someone who represents the bank and who promotes the bank's services to clients," she says, adding they spend most of their time developing relationships with potential customers - or "prospecting" - and maintaining existing relationships.

Maisie Lam, country human resources director at Citi Hong Kong, says where they do differ is in the way prospecting is executed, and in the types of products and services they have to deal with.

For example, relationship managers in private banking and corporate banking rely more on referrals to develop new clients. But clients of the latter, such as multinational corporations, tend to base their banking decisions on whether the company already has an existing relationship in other regions.

Corporate banking relationship managers also deal with solutions designed to meet a company's financing needs, such as cash management, trade finance and securitisation, in addition to traditional banking services such as lending and advising on investments.

Poon says that corporate banking relationship managers are usually recruited as graduates, with some moving on to corporate banking at the end of their training period. Those with five to eight years' experience may be picked to move into managerial roles.

In contrast, retail and private banking relationship managers are not required to have any prior banking experience.

"It's all about who you know, and where you come from," Poon says, adding that retail and private bankers usually maintain a client-facing role.

More senior bankers take on additional managerial responsibilities of overseeing junior relationship managers.

It is not unusual for retail and corporate banking relationship managers to move into private banking, especially during an economic boom when demand for servicing high-net-worth individuals goes up.


Most managers have a university degree

  • Corporate banking relationship managers of vice-president rank are usually paid about HK$1.2 million a year, excluding bonuses.
  • Salaries of retail and private bankers vary widely - depending on seniority and performance - and typically consist of a higher proportion of commissions than base salary.
  • There are no set requirements to be relationship managers, but most are typically university degree holders - some with an MBA.
  • Being a chartered financial analyst (CFA) - licensed by the Hong Kong Society of Financial Analysts - also helps, as does the certified financial planner qualification granted by the Institute of Financial Planners of Hong Kong.

Listening skills a must 

  • Some banking clients may know the end they want to achieve, but not the means to go about doing it. That is why relationship managers, regardless of what segment of clients they service, must understand a client's needs.
  • To do this, they need excellent listening and probing skills, a passion to work closely with customers, patience, persistence, and be motivated to succeed.
  • Knowing your clients is important because relationship managers need to differentiate themselves from competitors. Customers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and it is not unusual for them to maintain relationships with more than one bank.

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