In order to draw up sound financial plans, wealth managers need to make use of a number of investment vehicles. Regardless of the individual goals of the client and the processes involved, it all starts with effective communication.
"Capable financial planners are able to translate customers' needs into achievable solutions, and a good financial planning process is based on quality two-way communication," says Tim Kwong, senior financial services manager, Wanchai branch, retail banking group, CITIC Ka Wah Bank Limited.
This focus on efficient client relations has earned Mr Kwong his place as one of three group A finalist in this year's Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB) Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards.
"Participating in the competition gave me a valuable opportunity to broaden my exposure within the industry," Mr Kwong notes. "I've received great support from the bank, and my superiors have given me plenty of advice to help me refine my financial planning skills."
Mr Kwong's role requires him to work with customers from all walks of life. He believes it is essential to gain an in-depth understanding of their needs, lifestyles, financial means and long-term financial goals to serve them effectively. "This process requires a lot of energy and attention to detail," he notes.
He treats his customers as life-long business partners and spends much of his day catching up with them. "At CITIC Ka Wah Bank, we have a strong focus on customised service," he points out. "We recognise and respect the differences between customers and aim to build trusting relationships with them."
In addition to providing customers with regular market updates and analysis, the bank also encourages its financial services personnel to review customers' financial plans on a regular basis. "We don't stop talking with customers once they have signed up with us — we see communication as part of the long-term wealth management process to ensure that they feel their concerns are always taken into consideration and taken care of."
Mr Kwong believes that financial planners play an important role in the post-planning stage. "We conduct regular reviews and adjust plans in response to changing personal circumstances," he says. "For instance, customers about to get married or those deciding to take up further studies may find that their financial goals have changed. A well thought-out plan will be able to reflect these needs. A quality communication process therefore ensures the best interests of customers on an ongoing basis."
Mr Kwong takes great care to gain a thorough understanding of new clients' personal goals, circumstances and wealth management choices when drawing up plans for them. "A customer's spending habits may seem irrelevant to financial planning, but it is indeed very useful in assessing investment preferences and risk-tolerance levels," he remarks.
As new customers may feel uncomfortable about disclosing too much personal information, Mr Kwong breaks the ice by presenting relevant market knowledge in a professional manner while giving them a great deal of attention and care. "Customers tend to become more open once we have established a relationship of trust and confidence," he explains.
The financial downturn has made clients more cautious about financial planning, and wealth managers have had to hone their communication skills even more. In addition to using a standardised questionnaire to assess customers' appetite for risk, Mr Kwong also refers to their current investment portfolios for more insights.
"Other aspects to bear in mind when formulating a long-term customised financial solution include the client's current and future needs and financial position," he notes.
This customisation process is at the core of a professional financial planner's role, Mr Kwong stresses. He adds, "After all, the financial planning profession doesn't offer just another sales job for us. It requires practitioners to fully utilise their financial knowledge, analytical abilities and interpersonal skills to achieve customers' desired objectives."
Once a plan has been proposed and agreed on, Mr Kwong monitors market movements closely and involves the customer in regular portfolio reviews.
"This allows me to evaluate the performance of a customer's investment portfolio against market and personal benchmarks," he explains. "Adjusting and rebalancing the portfolio is often necessary to realign investment strategies with the customer's goals."
For Mr Kwong, job satisfaction comes from meeting with customers and realising that he can help them in practical ways. "It makes me happy just to draw up customised plans, particularly those that can carry people through difficult economic times," he concludes.
- Planning process starts with effective communication
- Financial plans must address long-term goals
- Customers involved in regular portfolio updates