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The changing role of a relationship manager

Anthonia Hui of AL Wealth Partners shares her thoughts and experiences about being a private banker in Asia over the past 25 years, and gives advice to relationship managers entering the industry today.

Date: Mar 2010

Tags: Advisory, Trust, Training, Experience

In an interview with Anthonia Hui, she explained how she originally got into private banking by accident.

She was originally an investment banker, she explained, but because her boss at the time was her fiancée (and then husband), she didn’t want to be seen as advancing her career that way. So she moved over to private banking on a recommendation, despite the fact that in 1985 very few people in Asia knew much about this industry.

She started work with Banca della Svizzera Italiana, now know as BSI, which at that time was looking to expand in Asia.

Women in private banking

Hui said she thinks the reason why the majority of private bankers in Asia are women is because their personalities are better suited to the role.

Because private banking involves taking care of someone’s money, it entails a lot of things which Hui said are closer to the characteristics of women – patience, the ability to multi task, and motherly instincts.

In addition, she said when advisers make money for their clients there is little, if any, praise – yet when they make a mistake they get heavily criticised by clients. Women can take that much better than men, said Hui, because they don’t have the same egos and therefore don’t take the criticism as harshly.

Enjoying the role

According to Hui, whoever chooses private banking as a career really needs to know themselves well.

Personality dictates whether an individual can stay in this career, she explained. For example, people who are shy and don’t enjoy being criticised, challenged, or looking out for someone else’s best interests are probably in the wrong job.

For Hui, she enjoys making a difference in someone’s life by managing their financial affairs well. That is the most rewarding part, she explained, especially in tough times like in 1998 and 2001 when her clients didn’t lose much money, certainly compared with their friends and peers.

An evolving industry

According to Hui, experiencing several financial crises over the last 25 years has helped her a lot as she can recognise what is important for a client, as well as how to tackle a client’s emotions.

In the early part of her career, like many relationship managers (RMs) today, she was just focused on a client’s net worth and meeting her sales targets, rather than the client’s demographic or emotions.

Hui said the key thing to which she attributes her success is having a strong conscience about not delivering what her clients expect from her. If that happened, she said would always speak to the client to try to find a way to fix the problem. She would also be open and direct with the client to tell them that she plans to recover the losses somehow if they can accept her apology.

Facing up to her own mistakes and being honest about them put her in a good position with her clients, she said.

Clients know that many RMs are inadequate and immature given the age differences, so the clients view the RMs as facilitators to help bridge the knowledge or instruments that the banks offer, explained Hui.

Given the demands being placed on RMs by the banks and clients alike, Hui said she thinks RMs have a hard role. They will never fully meet the expectations of the employer or the client, she said.

Advice for new RMs today

Hui said a big difference for RMs in today’s market is that many organisations and regulators understand the need to train and better prepare the RM to service the client.

At the same time, clients are acknowledging that many RMs are not necessarily good enough to manage their money and shouldn’t be easily trusted to do so.

These issues have changed the dynamics of the industry, said Hui.

Yet organisations are still focused on training RMs on products and investment skill, and soft-skills training is lacking, said Hui, especially in preparing the RM mentally to deal with someone who is older, wiser and more capable of making money than the RM.

Hui said that RMs need to be taught how to deal with the emotional pressure to perform and protect someone else’s money, as well as looking out for their own interests.

Another problem for many RMs today, said Hui, is the reliance on emails and technology generally to communicate, rather than face-to-face interaction. This is a shortfall of the industry and it needs training to resolve it, she said.

 
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