A work of art consists of more than just a large canvas covered with different shades of paint. The artist's initiative and efforts are essential for creating a masterpiece. In the same way, the financial planning industry comprises a range of interwoven elements to provide the best possible service to clients.
The Bank of China (Hong Kong) (BOCHK) aptly talks about "the art of wealth management" when it describes financial planning, a profession requiring a variety of skills underpinned by professionalism and ethical values. Chiu Man-ming, deputy general manager, personal banking and product management, Bank of China (Hong Kong), says, "The bank places a strong emphasis on professionalism in its financial planning workforce, particularly since it is a service-oriented industry."
Three good reasons
The bank aims to enhance professionalism partly because of clients' growing interest in investment tools that go beyond the traditional, coupled with tighter regulations recently imposed by two independent governing bodies, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) and the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC).
"There's a vast difference between simply using interest vehicles and investing in securities and other investments; hence the need to upgrade professionalism," Mr Chiu notes. "The bank as the dealer comes under stricter control of the HKMA and the SFC."
A second reason for the need for increased professionalism is that investment-related information is widely available to Hong Kong consumers, so when they approach relationship managers (RMs), they expect them to have superior knowledge about the products and services available. Customers already tend to have a "depth of knowledge", financial planning professionals must, in turn, possess a higher degree of knowledge to offer clients, Mr Chiu stresses.
Thirdly, there has been an increase in the number of professional qualifications available, and these have almost become a prerequisite for entering the profession. One of the most popular is the certified financial management planner (CFMP) programme offered by the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB).
The qualifications also allow the bank to monitor staff level and performance, creating more potential opportunities for qualified employees, says Mr Chiu.
Integrity and ethics
However, professional examinations and other qualifications are not enough to create a culture of integrity and professionalism. It is important that integrity is also instilled during in-house and external training programmes. "It's pointless to have professionalism but lack integrity," he points out.
Integrity and ethics go hand in hand when doing business with clients and the importance of compliance is drilled into every financial planner at BOCHK, which maintains a reputation for being one of the most trusted names in the industry. "Our bank staff attends constant training with a financial planning academy to reinforce the basics and the importance of working ethically," says Mr Chiu. In addition, the bank ensures that staff members are always up to date with the latest compliance laws and new products on the market.
Excellent client-relationship skills are key for RMs to build good relations with their clients and gain their trust for managing their assets, but Mr Chiu stresses that RMs cannot work alone. "We engage staff in team-building exercises to increase the quality of service," he remarks.
BOCHK believes its training is more than adequate to instil not only hard skills such as selling, but also soft skills. "Being client-centric is crucial, so all products recommended to clients take into account their risk-tolerance and specific needs," he adds, stressing that the focus always remains on matching clients' specific requirements and not on selling. In conclusion, professionalism is more than an option — it's a requirement, Mr Chiu notes.