Banking on the mass affluent mind-set for growth

Helen Kan

China CITIC Bank International

Helen Kan of China CITIC Bank International (CNCBI) intends to leverage the connectivity with the bank’s China-based parent in a bid to maximise the potential for wealth management business and to capture the younger affluent market banking in Hong Kong via digitalisation, education and new offerings.


CNCBI, the offshore platform of China’s CITIC Bank in Mainland China, seems to have been making good headway despite concerns over competition and rising costs impacting the broader wealth management industry.

The bank has taken the proactive stance of maintaining its footprint in Hong Kong with 33 branches. At the same time, it has added new verticals to its array of offerings.

There is certainly an element of parental support working in its favour; China CITIC Bank, as one of China’s largest banks, counts 1,424 outlets in 138 large and medium-sized cities across the Mainland.

More specifically, this vast network creates an enviable source of referral business for CNCBI as the offshore entity, giving the bank credibility and unparalleled access to customers.


In addition to providing a steady stream of business, such connectivity has helped the Hong Kong platform to keep costs low. “We are not a stand-alone private bank, that’s the key difference,” explains Helen Kan, executive director and alternate chief executive officer of CNCBI. “We are just one bank with a continuum of segments.”

Embracing change

Despite her 30 years of experience already in banking and finance, Kan is ready to embrace change.

Indeed, she knows there is a lot of work to be done in the areas where she believes the bank can forge a competitive advantage.

“Our proposition is aimed at the mass affluent and a very simple core offering of private clients,” she explains. “We do not aim to be everything to everyone, and we do not compete with the biggest banks, but we want to have our own market that is loyal and likes our services.”

And to woo the increasing number of younger affluent clients naturally involves offering the latest in banking digital tools to appeal to them.

She is under no illusion about the difficulty of competing with what exists in the market already. But she is also confident that what the bank can provide will capture a decent market share – by meeting expectations of speed and ensuring a positive customer experience via the user interface.

This refers to activities ranging from remitting money to checking the status of accounts and doing fund transfers.

This is based around what CNCBI has termed its ‘mobile first’ strategy. This is different from the internet strategy, she explains, because it is based on meeting the needs of clients on the move.

“[Younger clients] expect immediate responses online or using mobile banking,” says Kan. “The navigation and ease of use, together with any explanations, have to be extremely clear.”

Playing the China card

CNCBI also wants to be the ‘bank of choice’ with the best international standards for cross-border customers coming from mainland China to Hong Kong.

And as China CITIC Bank is also focused on the mass affluent segment, this has helped it create greater synergies between its onshore and offshore businesses.

This also involves CNCBI helping to promote Hong Kong as the first port of call for mainland Chinese investors looking to diversify their assets.

While these individuals are still drawn to Hong Kong, competition has grown from other financial centres in the region, and globally. “Hong Kong still features high on the preferred destination list of Chinese, but they are also gradually getting interested in the US, Australia and, to an extent, Singapore,” says Kan.

She is therefore focusing on three things to retain CNCBI’s edge for this segment: its China connection, technology and quality of products and services.

“We do have to enhance our ability to service through electronic channels to complement the face-to-face RM-servicing model,” she adds. “Chinese customers want one-plus-N from the bank, where ‘one’ is the RM, so our RMs need to know their customers.”

This means being able to offer a lot of peripheral, value-added services, including advice on structuring and tax issues, immigration and children’s education, and link them with partners which can help them in these areas. 

In particular, CNCBI can play a bigger role in terms of succession planning.

Kan believes that as the current generation of HNW clients – currently in their 30s and 40s – grow older, the demand for wealth succession and planning will start to boom. In turn, this will demand new kinds of expertise from wealth managers in Hong Kong. 

“We are only five years old and we are looking to increase the depth and breadth of our private banking proposition. So far, we have only grown organically.”

When these components start to gel, she is confident that the bank’s wealth management strategy will fall into place and client growth will take off. 

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