Following the successful Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB) Outstanding Financial Planner Awards last year, the institute is hard at work organising the 2007 competition in conjunction with Career Times.
Last year's competition attracted more than 200 financial planners from Hong Kong and Macau, with employers nominating professionals to enter the competition including banks, insurance companies and independent financial advisories.
"Shortly after the 2006 awards presentation, we submitted a proposal for this year's event to our board. It was quickly approved and turned into an annual function as planned," says Carrie Leung, chief executive officer of HKIB. "The encouraging responses and results have motivated us to make this year's event even better."
Apart from full support from within the institute, the competition has already gained significant recognition across the industry. Ms Leung points out that many members have indicated their interest in this year's awards, and that some of last year's participants have already expressed their eagerness to sign up for a second time.
However, this enthusiasm will not necessarily translate into a greater number of nominations, she stresses. This is because organisations that participated last year would have learnt from their experience and are expected to select the best employees to achieve the competition's objectives in pursuit of financial planning excellence, rather than entering a large pool of candidates.
The competition rules have been finetuned without altering the ultimate concept, which is to raise the standards of financial planning and to promote public confidence in the profession. It also aims to draw attention to financial planning as a career in a bid to draw more talent to the field.
Feedback from industry insiders suggests that the competition is succeeding in its goals. "Comments from within the financial community have indicated that the competition caters for market needs and is an effective means to boost industry standards. There's also been a lot of praise for the transparency and openness of the whole process. Based on these and other opinions, we decided to follow the same procedure as last year," Ms Leung explains.
In the first round of the competition, entrants are required to hand in financial planning proposals drawn from real-life cases. Contestants have to obtain their employers' approval to the proposals.
In the second round, short-listed contestants are invited to interviews with the panel judges, where they are given the opportunity to explain their proposals face-to-face and are able to provide supporting details.
Six finalists (divided into two categories: those with fewer than three years of service in the profession and those with more) are then chosen. All, regardless of work experience, are then tasked with a final financial planning assignment drawn up by the HKIB.
Ms Leung notes that, for the winners, the awards are an acknowledgement of their efforts and contribution to their profession, as well as a credit in their personal profiles. In some cases, last year's winners were even approached by prospective new clients as soon as the awards were announced in the Career Times.
"I believe all candidates will benefit simply by getting involved. It is an opportunity for practitioners to recap what they are doing in their careers. Through studying genuine cases in the competition, participants will not only learn better skills but also reflect on the core values of the industry," she remarks.
For the HKIB, the competition helps to identify best industry practices to be incorporated into the institute's training courses, such as the Certified Financial Management Planner (CFMP) programme. Combining an international framework with key elements for the local market, the programme includes banking law and services, financial products, commercial banking practices and treasury and risk management.
As a spin-off from the Outstanding Financial Planner Awards, the HKIB have in recent months received an increasing number of applications for the CFMP and other training programmes. The HKIB aims to continue to modify a variety of educational options to suit market needs and foster expertise in the banking and financial industry.
"In the ever-changing investment environment, people working in the sector should stay abreast of new trends," Ms Leung concludes, pointing out that new elements such as A-shares, H-shares and various bonds are constantly being introduced into the market. "Clients will ask their financial planners about any products that seem attractive, but it is important for professionals to analyse their clients' needs and suggest the most valuable portfolio for them. That is what ethical selling means and what the HKIB is always emphasising."