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Banking on contacts, skills and experience

Published on Sunday, 15 Sep 2013
John Mullally
Enid Yip

Business is booming in the private banking and wealth management sectors in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the region. As a result, the prospects are bright for those with the right skills, experience and contacts.

“The private banking and private wealth management sector in Hong Kong remains an active recruiter, with a number of firms vying to be the top provider of wealth solutions to the mass affluent, high net worth and ultra high net worth sectors,” says Mark Andrews, director of banking and financial services at Hudson. “The main areas of recruitment for private banks are in the front office for private bankers and relationship managers, and in the middle office functions, particularly in compliance and credit risk management.”

Employers are also seeking candidates with relevant work experience – especially for private bankers or relationship managers. They hope to attract staff with established relationships and assets under management.

“For compliance and credit risk roles, employers are focused on candidates who have a core understanding of the nuances of private banking and private wealth management, which only those who have been working in the sector will have experience in,” Andrews says.

John Mullally, associate director for financial services at Robert Walters, agrees that there is a continuing demand for experienced and well-networked private bankers and wealth managers – not only in Hong Kong, but also in Singapore and the Greater China region as a whole. The main problem is that there are only a small number of such individuals available, and many firms have had to take on senior private bankers and teams that have failed to live up to their expectations.

 “In comparison to three years ago, when many banks were taking on financial services professionals from a variety of areas and then trying to retrain them as private bankers, the recruitment process has become a good deal more selective, and while there is still hiring going on, it is not at the level it once was,” Mullally says. “This is probably a good thing, though, as the level of expertise being hired is at a higher level and more qualified to provide financial and wealth management advice than some of the hires from a few years ago.”

 So what, exactly, are employers looking for? Soft skills are seen as key.

“A great private banker must have the ability to win and inspire trust,” says Enid Yip, chief executive officer for Asia at Bank J. Safra Sarasin. “All the diplomas in the world mean nothing without trust, and trust is fostered and grown through genuine listening. So the key skill is the ability to listen and understand – which is easier said than done.”

Empathy is another important attribute. “You need to empathise with the client,” Yip says. “You also need to appreciate how they value their wealth – from the perspective of actual assets. But you also need to understand the emotional value that they attach to their achievements.”

Job applicants need to understand the needs of the companies they want to work for.

“That may require considerable insight, because these needs can be very emotional, too,” Yip says. “You can’t teach integrity and credibility – these are innate skills. That is why I am personally involved when we are considering any new relationship managers. I need to feel that I can trust them to be a part of my team. If I find them trustworthy, I believe our clients will be able to trust them.”

When it comes to salaries, many candidates have unrealistic expectations.

“Salaries need to be justified by a business case,” Yip says. “There are many banks that are operating unsustainable cost structures, and this will become very evident over the next 12 to 36 months as you will see consolidation, while smaller banks will leave Asia. Costs are an issue for every bank, given reduced revenues. But we have been very careful not to expand beyond our means. At Bank J. Safra Sarasin, our focus is on sustainability, and that includes our business model.”

Nevertheless, career paths are excellent for people starting as assistant relationship managers, Yip says. “As they gain experience, they simply become more and more valuable.”

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