IT IS NO secret that private wealth management is the fastest-growing segment of the financial services industry. Propelled by sustained economic growth and fuelled by newly created wealth from Asia, offshore private wealth management firms and banks are booming. With so many emerging markets on the doorstep, there is a voracious demand for high-quality professional financial advisers. Despite the golden opportunities for financial firms to expand their operations exponentially, there is a significant stumbling block, and that is a serious shortage of qualified people. This scarcity of trained professionals affects the productivity of wealth practitioners and key management as they strive to satisfy the demands of their growing affluent customer base. 'The staff is a firm's most valuable capital and our biggest challenge is finding the right people,' Morgan Stanley Asia-Pacific head of private wealth management Charles Mak said. 'My aim is to grow the business by 25 per cent annually but we cannot do this on productivity growth alone, we need a talented pool of trained financial advisers.' Morgan Stanley has more than 600 offices in 30 countries. Its team comprises private bankers and advisers providing comprehensive investment management advice to individuals, families and trusts who control substantial pools of wealth and liquidity. Besides providing the traditional service of stability, privacy and exclusivity, the firm offers access to a unique network of investment intelligence through local skills and innovative ideas. Hong Kong is the firm's headquarters for the Asia-Pacific and the strategic gateway for capital raising in China. 'We've seen tremendous growth in the past five years. Our business has quadrupled and we will continue to grow despite the competitive landscape for our industry,' Mr Mak said. Morgan Stanley's primary businesses in Asia include corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions advisory, direct investment, equities and fixed income research sales and trading, foreign exchange and commodities, private wealth management, and investment management. The firm works with many governments in the region and plays a major role in restructuring and privatising state-owned enterprises, and in advising Asia-Pacific's leading corporations on mergers and acquisitions. Private wealth management is an integrated speciality that requires advisers to provide strategic ideas, services and solutions finely tuned to each client's goals and circumstances. It is a custom-tailored service, and the most experienced people are much sought after. 'The whole industry is experiencing this shortage. Recruiting, retaining and training talent are the three major pillars supporting our business,' Mr Mak said. The firm is looking for energetic, imaginative, open-minded and proactive individuals with a keen interest in international markets and business culture. 'Sometimes we employ experienced people through lateral hires. This is the most costly method as we have to provide an adequate pay packet to make it worth their while to move,' he said. But they are well-versed in the investment business and are highly productive in their capacity as financial advisers. 'Another way is growing our own crop of MBA associates. They already have several years of experience before they decide to study further. We train them for six months in our offices in New York and London and then they return and spend a year [being mentored]. It takes almost three years for them to become full-fledged financial advisers,' he said. The risk is that competitors lure such high-calibre staff away. The firm also looks at potential candidates from within. 'With creative hires, the staff have already adapted to the Morgan Stanley culture and always have an institutional background [including] research, sales and trading. 'They have the expertise and are familiar with the products. They are capable of handling themselves in any complex financial situation,' Mr Mak said. Training programmes such as the productivity expertise exchange seminars provide managers with specific training in wealth management disciplines, including compliance, asset allocation, derivative products and other specific investment advice. 'We handle ultra high net-worth individuals and it is extremely important that our advisers understand the full range of services Morgan Stanley has to offer and how to apply these to meet individual client's needs,' he said. The firm hires Chinese or Asian nationals educated at American universities and provides specific training programmes. With the rapid expansion of Chinese businesses, the firm is considering recruiting top students from universities in Europe, Asia, Australia and China. 'Hong Kong lacks a specific degree programme in private wealth management,' Mr Mak said, explaining the shortage of trained staff in the region. From its two hubs in the region, Hong Kong and Singapore, Morgan Stanley plans to expand into additional markets. As a result of the booming private wealth management industry, the business-friendly Singapore government has helped to establish a Master of Science degree programme at Singapore Management University specifically designed to train students in the art of being private bankers. 'We need this sort of wealth management degree programme in Hong Kong,' Mr Mak said. 'There aren't enough skilled private banking advisers and the talent shortage is felt acutely by everyone in the industry. Hong Kong is recognised as an Asian financial centre, the local government should do something about it.'