Career Advice Expert Advice

Banking sets high bar on skills

Jobseekers require much more than technical ability to persuade employers to sign them up

Hong Kong's banking and financial institutions are continually on the lookout for committed, enthusiastic and career-focused individuals. But while the finance industry faces a perpetual talent squeeze to find suitable candidates, employers are not prepared to lower their recruitment standards.

If anything, observes Carrie Leung, CEO of the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB), while competition for the industry's top talent has intensified, recruitment expectations have become more exacting. One reason, she says, is that banks and financial organisations are operating in a tight cost-awareness environment.

"Banks make a considerable financial and time investment when they recruit new employees, especially graduate management trainees, so they need to be certain they are hiring the right people," Leung says.

Leung believes the Classified Post Career Forum is an ideal event for students and fresh graduates to gain first-hand experience of the type of people and skills that employers are looking for. To obtain the maximum benefit from the forum, she recommends that participants remain open-minded and pay close attention to speaker presentations.

"I would suggest that they resist the urge to constantly check their mobile devices and send text messages and instead really focus on what is being said," Leung says. She adds that students and fresh graduates from a finance background can gain a wide range of perspectives from speakers and presenters from different industry sectors. The forum is also the ideal setting to ask questions and practise communication skills.

Because the banking sector employs professionals from a wide range of disciplines, Leung points out that it is receptive to recruiting suitable talent from non-financial academic backgrounds. "Provided job candidates have the right mindset and are prepared to work hard to learn the necessary professional skills, banks are open to hiring graduates from other disciplines, such as engineering graduates," she says.

The HKIB's prime focus is on promoting the professional growth of banking practitioners and building a sustainable talent pipeline. Leung says that it offers a range of programmes designed to help those from both financial and non-financial backgrounds to achieve qualifications and progress within the banking industry.

To help stand out in the competitive employment arena, jobseekers need to show that they can offer more than just technical skills, Leung says. For example, in addition to sound academic performance, banks look for candidates who are eager to learn, are open to new ideas and show initiative. Candidates should also have good communication and interpersonal skills, and the ability to interact with customers in a competent and professional way. For instance, Cantonese, English and Putonghua language proficiency is a hiring prerequisite.

"It doesn't matter if an employee is an experienced banker or a new graduate-management employee - if you are wearing the company badge, you need to be able to communicate with customers in a clear and professional manner," Leung says.

As one of the key speakers at the forum, Leung says she will emphasise the need for young people entering the banking and finance profession to manage their career expectations. "Young people need to invest in their career, which requires hard work and discipline," she says.

While highlighting to forum participants what the banking industry has to offer, Leung says she will also aim to dispel any misconceptions that working in the banking sector is boring. "Banks cater to the needs of the extremely well-off, the less well-off, and large and small businesses," she says. "With mobile and electronic banking, plus the growing demand for banking and financial services from the mainland, the scope of jobs in the banking sector is expanding all the time."

Patrick Ip, deputy chief executive at the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (Asia) and another of the speakers at the Career Forum, echoes Leung's observations. "With new business opportunities in the offshore renminbi market and China trade financing, the overall demand for bank staff is increasing," he says, adding that the demand for front-office staff with a good track record is always high.

He also says that while demand for good mid- and back-office staff is similarly robust, young people seem less willing to apply for entry-level positions. He highlights the need for young bankers to learn more about the mainland business and finance markets and the basic fundamentals of compliance and risk control.

A strong advocate of HKIB's exams and career-development programmes, Ip says that they are a perfect fit for bank practitioners as they provide practical banking knowledge that individuals may find difficult to learn while studying at university. He says that equipped with HKIB qualifications, young bankers are in a better position to carry out their duties more effectively and professionally.

"To become a successful banking professional, an individual must continuously upgrade his or her skills, knowledge and attitude to meet changing business needs and economic conditions," Ip says.

Ip echoes Leung in emphasising the importance of soft skills. "The most important part is how to adapt and apply soft skills and put them into practice in the real working environment, while continually fine-tuning them," he says.