Since the start of the boom in the financial-planning industry in recent years, and with an expanding pool of affluent individuals needing wealth-management services, insurance companies, independent financial advisories and banks are all competing for their share of the market.
The middle tier, and in particular the number of millionaires, has more than doubled over the last few years, says Mr Sion Huang, managing director, sales and distribution, consumer banking, DBS Bank (Hong Kong) Limited. He adds that the number of investors has increased accordingly, particularly within the millionaire segment, noting that the bank's Treasures Priority Banking has been continuously growing.
There are multiple ways for investors to put their hard-earned cash to work today, with information widely available from finance firms and over the Internet. "People are no longer restricting their investments to securities and properties," Mr Huang points out. Investors, who also gather a lot of information from newspapers and through extensive advertising by financial institutions, are increasingly approaching professionals for tailored wealth-management plans.
"I believe that the Hong Kong market is a mature one, bearing in mind the high density of affluent clients and the high proportion of wealth-management professionals serving them," he says.
Quality over quantity
With more affluent clients, banks are driven to recruit more financial planning professionals, but, according to Mr Huang, DBS emphasises "quality over quantity". The number of financial planners — from insurance companies, independent financial advisories and banks — have not yet reached saturation point, but customers do have to ask themselves what differentiates one company from the next, he adds. "DBS is an Asian bank and an Asian-market financial specialist, which gives us an edge in the Hong Kong market."
Just like supermarkets provide more variety than small corner shops, banks like DBS offer retail customers the chance to invest in products that are previously only available to institutional and private banking clients.
Mr Huang points out that DBS offers a range of structured products linked to A shares and H shares, boosting the variety of its offerings to clients. He describes these shares as "very hot at the moment, with the opening up of the mainland China market".
DBS' Treasures relationship managers (TRMs) are tasked to educate their clients to become astute investors. "We want to help our clients to be smart investors, providing them product and markets leads through market experts," says Mr Huang.
DBS believes the sheer quality of its service to clients from trained and experienced staff sets it apart from competitors. "We have channelled a lot of resources into training and recruitment in order to employ the right people," he stresses. TRMs have full access to the latest market news and research via the bank's sophisticated platform "Smart Workstation" on their desks.
Apart from academic qualifications, it is crucial for a DBS TRM to be service-orientated. "If you don't have the right attitude, you will not be successful in this field," says Mr Huang.
He adds that a "client-centric approach", which focuses on the retention of both staff and clients, is the way forward, as commission-driven sales tactics only pressurise staff to achieve target sales figures while clients are pushed to buy products that may not be suited to their needs and circumstances.
Good career choice
A career in the financial planning industry offers the right candidates a route to high income and job satisfaction and Mr Huang believes it is an excellent choice for fresh graduates. To be promoted to TRM, employees need a number of years' experience in banking sales, but new graduates at DBS can start the first leg of their career on the internal financial planning executive (FPE) programme. With a good performance record, and after two to three years of experience, candidates can go on to the TRM training programme, where each trainee has a mentor and is trained to foster client relationships. "We provide a continuous pipeline to give individuals more than just a job but a long-term career," says Mr Huang.
"Smart Workstation" also provides one-stop access to all training programmes and materials. In addition, DBS sponsors its TRMs and other wealth management and sales related staff to attain the Certified Financial Management Planner (CFMP) designation through in-house training programs (83 staff members are currently studying for this qualification). The bank also encourages staff to acquire other relevant qualifications to boost their professional skills and image and will reimburse them for their studies.
As an Asian bank, DBS offers considerable career advantages — not only do employees gain a broader knowledge on Asian markets, but there are also opportunities to work abroad and gain wider exposure in the banking field. In addition, a "career road map" is drawn up for all staff members, helping them to feel valued and inspired to remain with DBS.