FOR MANY, LIFE without their credit card is almost impossible to imagine. The seemingly magical convenience offered by that plastic rectangle has become so much a part of the modern consumer economy that cash has become secondary. Just consider, without your credit card, there would be no online shopping, no tickets booked by phone and no free rice cookers to be redeemed for 35,000 bonus points. Recognising how the human mind works, credit card advertising often conjures up images of acceptance, status and success. American Express famously emphasised prestige, with its campaign highlighting membership and privileges. Visa's approach at one point was to seek out exotic locations where competing cards were not accepted and to claim its cards were 'everywhere you want to be'. MasterCard tried to imply you could 'master the moment' and enjoy the finer things in life by having its card. In Asia, credit card usage was initially slow to take off, but in recent years consumers seem to have been making up for lost time. In Hong Kong, credit cards issued by banks increased by 1.7 per cent last year and, according to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, there are now more than 9 million card accounts held with banks. This figure excludes those issued by other institutions but, even without those, the number of cards in circulation far exceeds the number of residents. Fuelled by an upsurge in spending and the opening of new accounts, several banks and other card-issuing companies have launched recruitment drives. Job opportunities exist in management, marketing, brand building, product development, financial control, risk management and frontline customer service. At American Express, the focus is on the company's global strategy of hiring employees who can deliver a premium product to customers. 'It may seem simple, but we look for people who will be happy and dedicated employees that can keep the customer happy,' said Zoe Lau, American Express Bank's vice-president for consumer and brand management. The company recently began targeting new clients with an annual income of $250,000. 'We will never be mass market, but we do see an opportunity to develop business in this income bracket,' Ms Lau said. When recruiting, the company uses a competency-based interview technique designed to match candidates to job requirements. Responses to questions are considered as important as any technical abilities. Applicants may be asked about the areas in which they believe they excel or to describe their previous best experience at work. Those applying for marketing positions, particularly, need to display communication and leadership skills, plus the ability to work in a team. Customer service hopefuls should communicate well and show a genuine desire to provide good service. 'Staff need to embrace our core values of respect for others, customer commitment and being personally accountable for delivering our commitments,' Ms Lau said. To make this easier, the company has developed more than 1,000 programmes to help employees structure their personal and career development. Most are available through e-learning, allowing staff to study at their own pace. Employees can also take advantage of a global learning programme whereby they can rotate jobs and join project teams in other offices around the world. To identify future managers and put them on the fast track, the company asks supervisors to nominate people with potential from their own departments to receive mentoring from senior executives. Most of those who join this programme are under 30 and may have recently joined the firm. Angus Wai, head of the human resources department for BOC Credit Card (International), said hiring recruits was a matter of give and take. 'Banks and credit card companies prefer experienced candidates. However, for some positions, fresh graduates are considered and given the necessary training,' he said. Most BOC vacancies require a tertiary-level education, although secondary school leavers are taken on for customer service positions provided they are proficient in Cantonese and English. Those who can also speak Putonghua have a competitive advantage. Customer service recruits take an extensive two-week training course before being assigned to work with an experienced mentor. The programme includes orientation, classroom training, product familiarisation, and simulations of real-life situations for customer hotline staff. BOC also provides soft skills and management training in team building and performance management, systems, languages and computer applications. Mr Wai said the recruitment drive was designed to attract talent and add strength to the company's succession planning. Career development will involve vertical and horizontal moves, as well as transfers to other locations for new job functions. 'The policy of the entire group is to create opportunities for both personal and career advancement through well-designed development and training programmes and internal promotions,' he said. apply now A number of banks and credit card-issuing companies are recruiting staff and offering good opportunities for career development. Candidates need to display good communication skills and a personality which allows them to focus on customers. Openings exist for frontline customer representatives, as well as in marketing, brand development, IT and financial analysis and control.