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An interview with Mr. Pham Hong Hai, CEO of HSBC Bank (Vietnam) Ltd.

Released at: 14:02, 07/05/2018

An interview with Mr. Pham Hong Hai, CEO of HSBC Bank (Vietnam) Ltd.

Mr. Pham Hong Hai, CEO of HSBC Bank (Vietnam) Ltd. (Photo: HSBC Vietnam)

Mr. Pham Hong Hai, CEO of HSBC Bank (Vietnam) Ltd. tells VET about banking human resources in Vietnam

by Ngoc Lan

How do you view the development of Vietnam’s banks at this time?

We’ve observed positive changes in Vietnam’s banking industry in recent years. Both local and foreign banks have been actively developing business and servicing clients. The participation of foreign banks along with their local counterparts have promoted healthy competition and have offered customers more benefits while contributing to the development of the banking sector. Banks have been trying to better understand their customers’ needs, upgrade and diversify their products and services, and improve procedures to serve their customer segment of choice.

Stepping into 2018, Vietnam continues to offer a favorable environment for businesses in general, as well as robust economic growth, strong FDI inflow, a rising middle class, and faster reforms. The banking industry had a good year in 2017 and will benefit from this favorable macro environment in 2018, especially in blooming areas like consumers, manufacturing, infrastructure and M&A.  Digital trends are also changing the economy and banking industry. This will help develop a cashless society in the future where the smartphone plays the role as a catalyst for mobile payment for retail transactions, online payment for tax, fee, biometrics recognition for banking account access and the birth of many fintech start-ups. Collaboration between banks and fintech start-ups is also a positive trend that is improving the customer experience. Banks have a large customer base, a stable infrastructure, assets and regulatory know-how. Start-ups provide out-of-the-box thinking, technical expertise, and the agility to be able to quickly adapt to change.

Many foreign investors see that there is a lack of occupational skills and knowledge among banking human resources in Vietnam, especially at senior levels. Do you agree? Why?

Since the banking sector has been growing very fast, the supply of human resources isn’t able to catch up with the demands of the banking sector. Because there’s still a gap between what universities produce and what businesses need, banks often spend a lot of time and money training and retraining fresh graduates to ensure they have the sufficient knowledge they need.

On the other hand, Vietnam’s banking industry has developed strongly in recent years, resulting in the upgrade and up-skill of its human resource pool, both in quantity and quality. We’ve seen many Vietnamese take up senior positions in local and international banks. But it’s still considered a relatively young industry in the region and especially on a global scale. That’s why it’s fair to assume that there will be roles that require a level of experience both in terms of breadth and depth. Naturally, this results in the selection of the best qualified candidate who, most often, are expatriates who have longer banking career experience and international exposure.  

Investing in a market like Vietnam requires a long-term vision and a strong wish to develop together with the country. At HSBC, our strategy is to invest in our people and talents. As a locally incorporated international bank, we benefit from having a diverse set of human resource capabilities, and a competitive edge that allows us to bring in international resources to supplement, train or share best practices and expertise with our local colleagues and vice versa. At the moment, the strategy has resulted in the balance of international and local bankers who are leading the organization in Vietnam.  

It also would be of interest to share that HSBC Vietnam’s employees have landed several key leadership positions in major markets across the globe. This is a testament to the fact that local bankers have the skill and capabilities to compete globally.

Could you please share HSBC’s human resource scale at the moment? How many senior management positions do you have in your company? What per cent of Vietnamese managers make up the bank’s total senior workforce?

HSBC in Vietnam has approximately 1,300 employees and roughly 2 per cent of them are expats. The executive committee is composed of 15 senior officers of which the majority is Vietnamese.

Could you please share with us your bank’s key strategies in developing human resources, especially at senior levels? What are your specific strategies in retaining existing talent?

At HSBC, we focus on investing in our people, the greatest asset of the bank. We focus on the BUILD strategy where internal talent is nurtured into future leaders. The learning and development team helps the leadership team identify and develop top performers from entry-level positions up to senior leadership positions. They work closely with businesses and departments to provide opportunities for employees to develop their skills, capabilities and experience to help their careers at HSBC thrive. This team also designs and delivers solutions to improve professional, technical and leadership capabilities. They are supported by expert teams that focus on culture, diversity and inclusion, and organizational development.

The development of senior level executives includes programmed e-learning and instructor lead approaches. With HSBC’s strong international network, overseas attachment is a key learning solution utilized to develop high performing leaders. Furthermore, leadership forums are organized to provide strategic commercial insights drawn from industry leaders of the country.

It’s important to highlight that we have created local talent programs to ensure we develop future banking leaders. This endeavor is intended to build the local talent pipeline for the organization to address our strategic succession plans.

To retain our leadership talents, the organization has embarked on the pragmatic approach of increased performance feedback and discussion. This is further supported by the periodic review of rewards and benefits, role progression and development plans. These actions comprise our overall employee and talent proposition. 

Recently, some banks have signed deals with local universities to find high-quality human resources. What do you think about that trend, especially at senior levels?

Directly tapping into the source of upcoming talent from the universities is a positive movement. It exhibits the industry’s commitment in utilizing the local workforce. However, it’s important to note that senior position recruitment doesn’t happen at the campus level.

At HSBC, we partner with universities in Vietnam for many of our initiatives, especially on the corporate sustainability front as with the Young Entrepreneur Award, and now the Business Case competition. The purpose of these initiatives is to equip the future generations of Vietnam with the necessary future skills such as employability skills. Through this Asia-wide exercise, Vietnamese students can showcase their analytical and financial abilities. More importantly, this gives young Vietnamese students the chance to compete on a regional platform. For HSBC, we are able to enhance our employer branding and are able to have an understanding and pick of the young talents from universities nationwide.

What are your suggestions for the Vietnamese government to develop high quality HR for the banking sector?

The human capability development in most developing countries is focused on strengthening and improving basic education and Vietnam shouldn’t be any different. What the country can revisit is how to raise the quality of education across all levels. A major change that the government should consider is updating curriculum to factor in globalized and digitized development. The development brought about by technology has exponentially changed business models and has moved into financial services. Future proofing of the Vietnamese human capability in banking would entail investing into tech orientated methods and curricula.

The other challenge in building high quality human resources in banking is governance and conduct. Banking is a business of trust. Hence, to ensure that banking professionals adhere to the highest standards of financial industry business decorum and conduct, regulations and governance on proper business and doing the right things for customers should be developed.

Ultimately, the bank exists for the market it serves. The quality of the work force can’t be built by one organization alone. The entire community should collaborate to ensure we have competent and trustworthy professionals in the banking business. 

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