The Ferrari of the banking world

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 May, 2006, 12:00am


IN OCTOBER 2005 UBS advertised in Asia for candidates to enrol in their new wealth management associate programme.

There were 3,000 applicants but only 33 were appointed. UBS is investing $2 million in each associate in the 18-month programme.

Three questions arise out of these figures. Why so many applicants? How did the selection process work? And what did it take to be selected at odds close to 100 to one? A fourth question is why did UBS launch such an expensive programme?

The large number of applicants is not surprising. UBS is one of the world's leading financial firms and the world's largest wealth manager by invested assets, which totalled 1,734 billion Swiss francs ($11.1billion) by December 31 last year.

The firm has offices in 50 countries with a staff of 69,500 and enjoys a high status in the banking world. Those selected for the programme can look forward to a financially rewarding career with opportunities for personal development.

From the initial 3,000 applicants, 500 were selected to take a numerical test, but just 150 got through. These survivors were invited to an interview which left just 76 remaining to face the final hurdle, an assessment centre with a panel interview, group discussions, case studies and presentations.

Thirty three cleared this final hurdle and secured their place on the elite training scheme.

Of the 33 selected, 13 were from Hong Kong, 13 from Singapore, three from Zurich and two from Geneva (from the bank's Asia team in Switzerland), one from Tokyo, and one from Taipei.

Only 18 per cent were from UBS, 15 per cent came from private banks, 50 per cent from banks and other financial institutions, and 18 per cent had a non-banking background.

The programme is a new initiative and differentiates itself from peer competitors by targeting people in their mid-careers.

'The programme targets applicants with about five years' career experience. It's only after working for a number of years that people really know what they want,' said Allen Lo Chun-Lun, UBS managing director and regional market manager, Greater China. Like many other successful people, he remembers his early graduate days and not having a clue which career path to take.

'It was only along the way that I found what I wanted. Only after four or five years do you have a clear picture of where you want to go. After five years, people have a clearer direction and that gives a better capacity,' Mr Lo said.

'When UBS hires, first and foremost they look for integrity; every day we go out and represent the firm. Our clients trust us with their funds. Second is energy and third is the capacity to learn. We hire from different disciplines and therefore the capacity to learn and keep up with change is important.

'Other firm's programmes usually involve on-the-job training. Our programme is different, our programme is pure training.' Associates in the programme are trained in sales, advisory skills, technical aspects of wealth management, compliance, leadership and even social skills. Those in the programme also get to spend a minimum of six weeks in Switzerland.

After completing the 18-month programme, associates are expected to understudy a senior client manager with the aim of taking over 10 clients after 18 to 24 months - 'but only if [the] client is comfortable,' Mr Lo said.

The programme was established in response to a demand for high-quality wealth managers.

After the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the Hong Kong economy was quiet until 2004. In recent years, world economic growth has averaged around 5.1per cent, with Asian economies growing at 7 per cent to 9 per cent.

Economic growth impacts on the job market. 'We have to hire way ahead of the market expansion. It takes three years for someone to be productive and be able to fully contribute. When hiring people we have to integrate new joiners so that they fit the culture of the firm. We have to invest in the future, which is expensive. We also hire from outside mid-career or senior people,' Mr Lo said.

UBS has one of the lowest annual turnovers in the region at between 7 per cent and 9 per cent. Mr Lo aims to reduce this to 5 per cent.

'It is important to keep the people we have with all the distraction from competitors. We have to manage retention of talent. We believe to keep talent we have to give staff the opportunity to grow,' he said.

'Money and promotion are not key, it is more important that our people can grow professionally by stretching beyond their ability.'

Both Jamee Wong Kwok-Ching and Austin Mok Chung-Kit were attracted to the programme because of the UBS brand image. 'UBS is a Swiss Bank, it has the name, culture, experience and history.

'UBS is like a Ferrari, we have prestige and glamour in banking,' Mr Mok said.