Around 10 years ago, Chi-Wai Ho was approached with an interesting proposition. His boss asked if he would like to develop a start-up business in what was then a largely unknown area — financial planning. Mr Ho already had seven years' experience in the asset management business and was soon convinced that the opportunity was too good to miss.
Now a financial planning consultant at one of the Bank of China (Hong Kong)'s VIP centres, he believes that his strong background in banking provided a tremendous advantage. "My previous experience in asset and risk management gave me a solid foundation for a career in financial planning because, back then, I was one of the few who was really familiar with all the investment tools and products," Mr Ho says.
He also had a thorough understanding of overall banking operations, which is certainly useful when explaining products and services to clients. "We must be able to answer all questions related to the banking and finance industry," he says.
Mr Ho believes he was picked for the new role because he possessed certain important attributes — good communication skills, dedication, enthusiasm and courtesy. "Working at the front line as the bank's representative, you have to really like the job and the people you deal with," he adds. "My early days as branch manager were exciting and challenging."
The range of products and services grew steadily and, when the MPF scheme was launched, the demand for financial planning advice increased dramatically.
Mr Ho recognised that two things were essential to keeping ahead: hard work and continuous learning. "You shouldn't look for shortcuts," he says. "I moved up step by step and all the efforts I have put into personal and career growth turned out to be worthwhile."
As an experienced financial consultant, Mr Ho gets an increasing amount of job satisfaction from coaching new recruits and giving them on-the-job training. "They are pleased to work with me because I can share so much practical experience and get them involved," he says.
Since clients continue to have higher expectations of their financial planners, Mr Ho has found a way to convert possible stress into a source of motivation. Though financial planners have to comply with new requirements and tighter regulations, he says that the extra work will also contribute to a more professional image for the industry. "We all need to have the right qualifications and this also increases job satisfaction."
In his opinion, the relationship between a financial planner and a client is like a marriage. "You have to get to know the person first and develop a better understanding," he explains. "Building up mutual trust is essential. There may be difficulties, but we review and communicate along the way."
Mr Ho usually begins the working day by studying the market information provided by the bank's wealth management team. Then he reviews planned appointments using the sophisticated contact management system before meeting clients. He also needs to deal with walk-in customers, update client information and plan for further meetings and conferences.
His target is to meet up to eight clients a day. "We never rush through meetings and try to make appointments at least a week in advance," he says. "We work around the client's schedule and needs."
Nowadays, the financial planning sector also employs customer relationship managers. "They help banks to build long-term relationships with clients and represent the transition from a product-oriented business model to the present customer-centric one," Mr Ho notes.
As the industry evolves, both financial planning and customer relationship managers need to be aware of the client's changing needs. This makes it necessary to know about their family situation, investment preferences, income and financial planning goals.
"The world is changing rapidly and so is our profession," Mr Ho says. "We must keep in close contact with relevant institutions and take appropriate courses to update our knowledge and skills. In that way, we can be sure to keep abreast of the latest developments."