Fittingly in a market where the financial planning sector is booming to meet escalating needs, there is great enthusiasm for this year's Hong Kong Institute of Bankers Outstanding Financial Planner Awards. Following last year's success, entries are flooding in this year, says Carrie Leung, chief executive officer, the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB).
"Throughout the process so far, the judges have commented that the standard of the candidates has generally gone up," Ms Leung remarks. "One reason for the improvement is that, drawing from last year's experience, the participating financial institutions not only have invested more effort and resources this year but also gained better grip of the professional standard set forth by the Awards."
The number of entries is solid proof of the awards' standing in the industry. "We have received 20 per cent more entries than last year," Ms Leung notes." All participants have to submit written financial planning proposals for assessment, of which 30 will be short-listed for round two of the competition, during which candidates will be asked to deliver oral presentations.
Upon assessing the oral presentations, the judges will select the most outstanding participants to the final round where the number of finalists will be cut down to six.
"The initial stage of the awards consists of a five-step "TRUST" process, during which a submitted proposal is judged according to preparation methodology, client servicing and follow-up," Ms Leung says, adding that product knowledge, attitude and technical skills of candidates are also assessed.
"These comprehensive criteria are set to allow the judges to assess how well the candidates are able to deliver relevant knowledge such as investment and other risks impacting to the financial plan proposed to their clients," Ms Leung points out. "The 30 candidates that go through to round two will have to cover these areas well and impress the judges."
Ms Leung emphasises that the awards look at a lot more than just measurable returns on investments. "The spirit of the awards focuses on how candidates are able to develop ethical financial planning strategies," she notes. "This means that planners should understand their clients' needs and plan accordingly, as well as build relationships of trust during face-to-face meetings with clients, leading to the successful closing of the deal."
Maintaining relationships and ensuring that customers remain loyal are always key to outstanding proposals. "This is particularly important in Hong Kong, where a customer can have quite a few accounts in different banks. How a financial planner therefore grows a customer's wealth on behalf of a financial institution definitely helps pull in revenue from other institutions once the customer is satisfied with the services of that particular financial management planner," says Ms Leung.
Once the six awards finalists have been appointed after round two, they are divided into two groups, one for candidates with at least three years of practical work experience and another for those with less than three years' experience. "Each finalist is presented with a case scenario and has to submit a written response, followed, once again, by an oral presentation in front of the judges," she adds.
"The final round panel of judges, consisting of academics, regulators and senior bankers, challenge the six finalists through difficult, and sometimes unpredictable questions," Ms Leung explains. "They can expect to be questioned about their knowledge of, and views on, products, policies, practices and market trends, in order for the judges to assess their communication skills and thoughts on topical issues that may not directly relate to their written proposals."
The oral presentations can be more important than the written proposals, especially for candidates in round two, Ms Leung says, advising that time management is crucial. Each candidate gets 25 minutes. The participants will make use of the first 15 minutes to present the written plan and the remaining 10 answering questions from the panel of judges. This is also the type of situation that financial planners would often come across in real life. Ms Leung adds, "A client would need time to ask questions, rather than just letting the financial management planner talk throughout the meeting."
Candidates can also anticipate what questions judges may ask so that they can prepare for them, she says. "Presenting a comprehensive proposal in 15 minutes is indeed a test of communication skills and a similar scenario to meeting a client during lunch time," Ms Leung concludes.