WITH THE BANKING industry switching to a five-day working week and extending its opening hours at weekends, hundreds of new frontline positions are being created. 'We have been recruiting all year,' said Teresa Au, the head of service and sales, personal financial services, Asia-Pacific, for Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. 'We recently announced we would take on 400 new recruits for our sales force. This is directly related to the extended banking hours and five-day working week, both of which will be implemented next month.' At present, HSBC's 114 local branches are open on Saturday mornings but, from September 9, 50 branches will remain open until 4.30pm. Ten branches in high traffic areas, such as shopping malls, will be open on Sundays from 12.30pm to 4.30pm. The extended hours call for more counter and customer service officers, financial services officers, financial planning managers and customer service/sales officers in call centres. 'Most of the positions are frontline customer-related jobs,' Ms Au said. 'Broadly speaking, we are looking for candidates who have completed a secondary education or above, including associate degrees or diplomas, and have a year or two of customer service experience.' Financial servicing staff are usually university graduates with at least one year's work experience. However, applicants with lower academic qualifications but relevant work experience will also be considered. Candidates should be outgoing, independent and mature. They should enjoy meeting people and dealing with customers, and have a genuine interest in the sales process. 'We need people who are real team players,' Ms Au said. Fluency in Cantonese is a prerequisite, but proficiency in written and spoken English is also expected. 'Putonghua would be an advantage, since a growing number of our customers are from the mainland, Taiwan and Singapore - and they don't speak Cantonese,' Ms Au said. Previous work experience in selling financial products and services, or involvement in other retail sales, is an advantage. The recruits will undergo comprehensive training, covering technical skills and service knowledge. 'We will support individuals to ensure they are fully competent in their roles,' Ms Au said. One of the benefits of working at HSBC is the clear career path and the range of opportunities. 'These are good jobs to start in if people want to develop a career in the financial industry,' Ms Au said. 'The positions offer the chance to pick up a lot of professional knowledge and customer experience. There is lots of room for career progression.' In recent years, new technology has brought significant change to the banking industry. For example, about half of all transactions are now done via self-service banking machines. Call centres handle about 15 per cent, and less than 5 per cent of transactions are done in a branch. The rest are conducted online. 'People's banking habits have changed a lot. Most customers are now prepared to handle simple transactions on their own, although they prefer to carry out higher value transactions on a face-to-face basis,' Ms Au said. Increasingly sophisticated customer requirements have driven other changes. 'Banks used to provide mainly saving and lending services,' she said. 'Now they are expected to help customers grow or protect their wealth, which means our employees must have a new mindset to meet customers' changing banking needs.' The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation is the founding and most important member of the HSBC Group. The group is one of the largest banking and financial services organisations in the world, with more than 9,500 offices in 76 countries and territories, and assets of US$1.738 trillion as of June 30.