IT CAN BE SAID that much of the banking industry operates in two distinct guises. There is the one known to the general public, represented by local branch networks and providing the full array of consumer banking and wealth management services. Then there is the investment banking side, less visible to the layman but underpinning the billion-dollar deals which drive international business and, at the same time, offering the kind of careers that finance majors and MBA students dream of. The Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS) perhaps exemplifies these two faces. Well known in Britain as a 'high street' bank and ranked as Europe's second-largest financial services group by market capitalisation and the fifth largest in the world, it would hardly claim to be a household name in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, it has been in Greater China for more than 30 years, with the Hong Kong branch opening in 1973, according to Anthony Yuen, managing director and head of corporate banking and financial markets (CBFM) in the Asia-Pacific region. The particular focus is on meeting the requirements of institutional investors and major corporations and providing them with tailor-made products and services. 'Working with our colleagues in London, we focus on supporting British, European and North American clients in the region,' Mr Yuen said. 'Our structured finance teams offer asset finance solutions, including for aerospace, and loan syndications through loan markets.' To provide the necessary expertise and maintain required levels of service, RBS had a headcount of slightly more than 180 staff in its Hong Kong and mainland offices at the end of last year. With the overall improvement in the economy and the higher number of transactions taking place, this represented an increase of 22 per cent compared to 2003. Assuming that business continues to improve, additional recruitment is likely in the months ahead. Mr Yuen said that the CBFM business in Hong Kong and Asia offered a diverse range of complex products to its clients. 'Therefore, the qualities we look for in potential members of staff are aligned to this,' he said. 'As the financial services industry continues to increase in complexity, we strive to seek better qualified, skilled and experienced staff.' Consequently, the recruitment process receives particular attention, since attracting and hiring individuals who fit in with the RBS corporate culture is seen as vital. In this respect, the bank sees itself as a meritocracy, providing ample opportunities for those who possess the desire and ability to move ahead quickly. It views overseas postings as an excellent way of gaining experience and broadening horizons, evidenced by the fact that a large proportion of the senior management team in Hong Kong have previously worked in other countries. This also ties in with the philosophy of being an organisation whose staff are expected to fit easily into a multicultural environment. 'We are keenly focused on team players who are looking to progress and add value quickly,' Mr Yuen said. 'Our staff are exposed to a variety of challenges and therefore must be flexible enough to accept them. Attitude is also a key competence, as we take a 'can-do' approach to issues and look for individuals who can live up to this.' To ensure new recruits get off to the best possible start, the induction programme is regarded as an important element for each individual. Recruits are given comprehensive training about RBS, their own place in the organisation, and the expectations they will have to meet. As with all major financial institutions today, formal training continues well beyond the first few weeks of the induction programme. With one eye firmly on further rapid expansion in the region, RBS has devised a system of personal growth and development plans for all staff to make sure they continue to learn, can make the most of their potential, and are in a position to contribute more. 'Staff are a key asset. They have twice-yearly performance appraisals and an important part of this process is the monitoring of their development and training needs,' Mr Yuen said. Specific training targets are identified by senior management and then implemented by line managers. Many employees are also qualified members of various professional bodies, which have their own mandatory requirements for continuing education. RBS therefore provides support and training to enable compliance with any external professional obligations. In certain cases, financial assistance may also be given to employees studying for an MBA or other master's programme, and senior managers have the chance to enhance their leadership skills through a special Harvard Business School programme. 'As RBS grows rapidly in the Asia region, it is key that we focus on personal development plans for all staff to ensure they continue to grow with the organisation,' Mr Yuen said. Outlining plans for expansion this year and beyond, he said RBS would grow its capabilities in line with its business and continue to serve its customers well. Those customers include central banks with operations in the region, blue-chip corporations and multinationals, as well as British companies expanding in Asia. There are also many top regional financial institutions, such as insurance firms, asset managers and private banks. In dealing with the varying needs of such a broad-based clientele in the present economic climate, certain key factors have to be taken into account. 'One of the biggest challenges banks are facing is the tightening of credit spread throughout the region,' Mr Yuen said. 'With the continued improvement of economic outlook and abundant liquidity in the market, we expect the credit spread to remain tight in the foreseeable future.' The major activities undertaken by RBS include everything from foreign exchange, interest rates and global currency options to fixed income and structured product sales. There is also specialist in-house expertise in hedging solutions across a variety of asset classes. In an effort to get higher yields from their portfolios, institutional investors have been making greater use of credit derivatives to enhance returns. As a result, options and derivative products have become some of the fastest growing in the region. In the past five years, RBS has achieved double-digit annual growth and last year saw a significant year-on-year increases in total income, up 18 per cent to #22.8 billion ($340 billion), and operating profit, which jumped 15 per cent to #8.1 billion. The CBFM division played a large role in that growth. Its income last year of #7.5 billion was a 12 per cent increase over 2003, and the Hong Kong office made a good contribution to those results. Key Points Wide range of investment solutions for corporate and institutional clients. Recruitment process identifies team players who can add value quickly. Overseas postings help in gaining experience and a multicultural outlook. Specific training targets and personal development plans for all staff. Emphasis on continuing professional education and further learning.