In 1989, Winnie, a young medical graduate, landed what she and her family thought was a noble, long-term, stable and satisfying job - that of a registered nurse. But unfortunately, reality was different. A patient too many, the newly initiated nurse barely found time to complete her daily administrative responsibilities in a packed hospital. The only incentive to remain in that profession, proper patient care, seemed far away.
Cut across to 2002 and meet Ms Winnie Shum, Director of Agency, an MPF licensed advisor and investment representative with AXA China Region Investment Services Ltd. (AXA). The medical graduate, who did not find a spot for herself as a nurse, took a drastic turn in her life in January 1990 and joined AXA as an insurance agent. "In my first year with AXA, I became one of the top performers with maximum number of clients and premium," says Ms Shum. With remarkable performances, she was promoted to sales manager within half a year's time and was promoted successively till she became a branch manager in January 2001 and senior branch manager in April 2001. "Thank to the recognition of my performance by my company, I have just been promoted to director of agency," Ms Shum says.
From nursing to insurance
Ms Shum has got more than 70 awards and qualified as a million-dollar round table (MDRT) member - an exclusive global club for achievers who generate revenue in excess of a million in a year - for an amazing nine years of the 12 she has spent in insurance. She is now running a team of over 50 insurance consultants and managers.
The story becomes even more amazing when Ms Shum reveals how she decided to shift to insurance from nursing. "In 1990, I overheard a couple of friends speaking about it. I found out more from people, and decided that I would give it a try. My parents did not want me to join this industry, but at heart, I knew that I had to try something. If I tried and did not succeed, it would be okay, but if I didn't try at all, my conscience would not agree with me. The past decade justifies every action of mine," Ms Shum asserts with a smile. Sounds like true blue will power.
"In the initial stages, you need to put in that extra bit. In my first six months here, I never had holidays. Work at any time is crucial to success in this business"
So, if a nurse can do it, can anybody make it big in insurance? "To learn and succeed in this job, you have to be very simple-minded. When you join this industry, learn it like a baby. Listen to your seniors, learn from them, and trust them. And be ready to work hard," Ms Shum says. "In the initial stages, you need to put in that extra bit. In my first six months here, I never had holidays. I worked weekends, had five, six or even more appointments daily. Work at any time is crucial to success in this business," an experienced Ms Shum says.
"The prime difference in today's job environment is that entry-level requirements have gone up. Different managers look at different aspects. Most agents entering the field today are degree holders, though the minimum acceptable level of education would be a Form 5 graduate. I personally prefer people with at least three to five years' experience, since that seems to make them more mature about their decisions. But yes, I would still give a bright nurse with fiery ambition an equal chance," Ms Shum says.
There are basically two choices available in this industry - you can remain a produ-cer or get on to the management side. If you want to remain a producer, you start as an insurance consultant and then go on to becoming an assistant business manager, business manager and finally senior business manager. In the latter course, which Ms Shum has followed, you also start as an insurance consultant but then move on to being a sales manager, senior sales manager, branch manager, senior branch manager and finally director of agency. "In terms of work content, there is not much difference between the various posts. You will continuously be trying to find new business, prospecting, focusing on after-sales service, etc," she explains.
In the second career path, you can recruit people under yourself and the pay scale is different. For instance, a business manager's income is different from that of a sales manager, because the latter will have a number of people working for him or her.
"As a manager with my own team here, I not only need to serve clients, but also look into the training, development and personal requirements of my staff. I have nearly 60 people in my team," Ms Shum says.
"Given China's accession to the WTO and the opening up of its economy, the insurance industry there is just waiting to explode. Insurance agents in Hong Kong do have an option to go to the mainland to explore opportunities there, but first, they must excel here to be considered to lead teams there. "It is likely that people with considerable experience, of maybe more than five to seven years will first be approached to go to China and start operations there," says Ms Shum. There is enough cheap and efficient labor in China, which might make it difficult for Hong Kong aspirants to land a job at lower levels, she feels.