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Product development and the personal touch put CITIC ahead of the competition

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CITIC Private Bank is leading Chinese private wealth managers in the adaptation of technology, but it is not forgetting the most important element of customer service and the notion that each App Must Have the Warmth of the Human Touch!

Innovation in technology is one of the key drivers of growth of the global wealth management markets, according to a recent report from Boston Consulting Group, and China’s use of technology has helped the nation’s wealth management market leapfrog the UK to become the world’s second largest market after the United States.

According to Global Digital Wealth Management Report 2018:

Building Trust and Reshaping the Value Chain with Technology, total online sales of wealth management products in the top four major markets – US, China, UK and Singapore – reached $6 trillion through end of 2017, and in China alone sales exceeded $2 trillion. “China already occupies a leading position in terms of both the size of its wealth management market and online sales penetration rate, ranking second only to the United States,” according to the research firm.

Executives at one of China’s private banking pioneers, China CITIC Bank, have been at the forefront of the adoption of technology. Actually, they have gone one step further. They are using online apps to service their clients on a wide range of not only investment but also personal needs – and pleasing them in the process – and by doing so indirectly driving sales.

In 2017 the bank launched its “Diamond Butler” service to cater to its top ultra-high net-worth clients – people with a minimum of Rmb20 million in investments entrusted to the bank. The service gives each high net-worth client a team of assistants who can be reached via the social media app Wechat, and who are on standby on a 24/7 basis to be of help on a wide range of personal matters.

“It’s like having an online secretary,” notes Yang Kai, a deputy division chief in charge of customer service in the private banking department at CITIC Bank. “There is actually three people serving one customer. Other banks focus on passing the service to vendors, but our team not only pass to vendors, we also supervise the vendors to make sure the vendors deliver top flight service. Most of our VIP clients travel globally, in fact, in 120 nations, and our team members assist them with purchases, we help them 24/7 via Wechat wherever clients go.”

Diamond Butler is the creation of executives at the bank who always seek to adhere to a brand philosophy of “keeping the temperature”. CITIC Bank launched its private banking service in 2007, and very early on executives realized that they can only win market share by delivering services that make people feel good. “By ‘temperature’ we mean providing services with the warmth of the human touch,” says Yang, “and that also means we insist on a complementary brand philosophy of ’protecting the temperature with faith‘ – faith in our own ability to deliver services with the human touch.”

So far, more than 36,000 high net-worth clients have entrusted at least Rmb6 million in investments and savings with the bank, which in total is managing Rmb500 billion in assets that belong to high net-worth individuals.

Although the bank adapts technology in delivering services and achieving sales, it also makes sure to give every single private banking client as much of the human touch as possible, such as making sure they are frequently greeted by a branch manager or an even more senior bank executive.

In recent years, CITIC Bank CEO Fang Heying and top branch managers make it an annual ritual to meet as many top private banking clients as possible to personally thank them and ask how bank services can be improved. “By doing this we maintain a strong relationship with our top clients,” says Wang Xiaowen, a senior officer in charge of investment advisory in the private bank. “We also can learn about their needs, the needs of their enterprises, and families.”

The bank is not a standalone entity – it is, in fact, part of a much larger group, China International Trust and Investment Corp., the largest trust conglomerate in China. As a member of CITIC group, the bank gets access to a wide range of experts and since 2015 has been working with CITIC Securities, CITIC Trust, CITIC Prudential Life Insurance, CITIC Jiantou Securities and China Asset Management Co. – one of China’s largest fund managers – to jointly produce a series of products that come under the “CITIC Wealth Management” brand. Together with other members of the group, CITIC Bank’s private banking division is able to go beyond the normal product-centric approach and deliver benefits to customers that meet their financial and non-financial needs over the course of a lifetime, both at work and at play.

Product offerings from the bank go beyond the normal range of asset allocation services – such as investing in and managing foreign exchange, equity, fixed income, and a wide range of alternative assets – to include helping families set up trusts so they can manage wealth across generations.

“As the first in China to launch a family trust research and development practice in 2015, we can say with confidence that CITIC Bank ranks among the best in the industry in terms of scale, market share and customer satisfaction in the family trust segment of the market,” says deputy division director Yang, adding that with the help of the group, the bank has been able to tap into and integrate both internal and external resources and adopt a “1+1+N” exclusive team service mode to provide customers with professional and comprehensive solutions. That means CITIC Bank is able to offer each high net-worth client a multi-specialist customer support team.

CITIC Bank has also created five major clubs for private banking clients, Yang notes: Investors, Health and Wellness, Future Leaders, Emotional Life and Travellers. The bank is able to offer members of the various clubs a host of exclusive benefits and services that suits their individual needs.

The Diamond Butler service is an example of what the bank means when it aims to deliver value to the customer – it delivers to them when they are at work, or at play.

Every high net-worth client can access their Diamond Butler via their smartphone’s Wechat app and get near instantaneous support on a wide range of services beyond banking. That includes booking limousine pick-up at airports, airplane tickets, a table at the nearest Michelin-star rated restaurant, checking into the nearest five-star hotel or hospital, or getting a problem solved – anytime, anywhere in the world.

The command centre of the Diamond Butler service is the CITIC 95558 customer service centre in Beijing. It is a bit of a mysterious department, where hundreds of people are busy day and night and where every team member carries two mobile phones, and type as fast as lightning.

Each CITIC 95558 team member is trained to act like a friend or a family member when they deliver their 24/7 VIP Butler service. One of the butlers, Gao Jiajie, shares her story.

“Imagine that there is a mobile phone that never shuts down after 24 hours,” she says, elaborating that the Diamond Butler is trained to do his or her best to help every customer, wherever that person may be in the world, and to be on standby as an assistant.

Gao goes on to relate a story of one of her interactions with a customer who became a friend.

“On a recent Sunday morning, I received a message, ‘This is the photo I took in Brazil, share it with you!’” she says. “I was so happy. It was my client, and I call her ‘older sister Xu’. She looked beautiful in the photo with a background of natural scenery, and her smile, her mood just brightened my day.”

Although “sister Xu” lives in New York City, and there is a 13-hour time difference between the two, Gao says this distance has not hindered the connection between her and the customer, adding: “Let me tell the story of how she and I became friends.”

At the end of last year, during the peak of the CITIC Bank points redemption campaign, Gao explained that Xu asked her to obtain an Amazon Kindle Voyage e-book reader for one of her children. Xu said that she had not been successful in the online exchange and that she suddenly thought of Gao, her Diamond Butler.

“However, after reviewing the gift information, I found that the gift can only be applied with credit points plus a partial cash or credit card payment,” Gao says, recalling that she explained this to ‘sister Xu’ and that she said: “Oh, it doesn’t matter.”

Although Xu did not insist on redeeming this product, Gao thought that her child might really like the reader, so she went to the points redemption system to find out if there was something similar that didn’t require a credit card to redeem.

“Fortunately, I found an e-reader that can be redeemed only with points,” Gao recalls. “I was so excited and sent the gift picture to sister Xu, asking for her opinion. By this time sister Xu, who did not hold any hope for the redemption, was very happy after seeing my recommendation. I immediately helped her to redeem the reader. After the redemption, sister Xu said to me happily in English: ’It is a gift. I hope it will be delivered soon. Thank you for your help!’”

From then on, every time Xu encountered a problem, she thought of Gao, her Diamond Butler. “That was how, over time, my relationship with sister Xu gradually developed from that of a customer to a friend,” Gao recalls, adding that “Sister Xu said often: ’When I ask you for help, I can rest assured.’”

When a service touches the softest string of a customer’s heart, the musical note that comes is trust, Gao elaborates. “Some customers just send a picture, plus a few words, and I can already guess the customer’s needs, and I act immediately. I think this is a tacit understanding I have with many customers.”

She goes on: “I can imagine if it were me – in need of help and in a bustling crowd of strangers, in some strange part of the world – I would always feel safe because I can always call upon my Diamond Butler. It makes me feel safe that there is always someone waiting for me.”

In the future, CITIC Bank private bank will strive to make every product and service as “customer-oriented” as the Diamond Butler, says deputy division chief Yang. “We understand that it is critically important to enhance every customer experience when it comes to every one of our products, services and activities.”

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