Financial planning is all about caring for customer needs and effective Communication is a central part of that.
In meetings, phone calls and written exchanges, the aim of the consultant is to create a positive impression from the outset and then establish a lasting relationship which is built on trust. This makes it possible to add real value for customers during the planning process and to put them in a position where they can realise their major financial ambitions.
"When customers are satisfied, that also brings benefits for the bank and boosts the career prospects of individual consultants," says Bonnie Cheung, financial planning manager of HSBC. "In a sense, everyone comes out a winner."
She notes that getting to know a client is a step by step process. It entails more than simply explaining the principles of financial planning. For example, it helps to have general knowledge of a wide range of topics in order to break the ice more easily. Depending on the likely interests of the client, it is then possible to kick off a meeting by talking about shopping, sports or that morning's headlines. "Some customers, though, are very sophisticated investors and prefer to get straight down to business," says Ms Cheung. "Therefore, it is important for a financial planning manager to develop the sensitivity needed to read each situation correctly and to adapt accordingly."
Once a customer feels at ease and understands that confidentiality will be respected, they will be more willing to talk about their background and give details of their personal finances. These usually relate to assets, debts, income and expenditure. Some information about such things as MPF contributions or life insurance policies may not be immediately to hand, but can always be checked later. Obviously, if accurate and complete data is provided, the proposed financial plan can be much more comprehensive in meeting expectations and covering future requirements.
"Remember, though, that this is essentially a business relationship," says Ms Cheung. "It is therefore sensible to keep in regular contact, but to make sure every phone call adds value in some way to the ongoing relationship, and that it is not just hello and goodbye."
The secret is to realise that each customer is unique and has individual needs. These can be discovered through active and, at times, subtle questioning. Also, whenever a customer states a firm opinion or a particular concern, it should be noted, since it may ultimately have bearing on investment strategies incorporated in the financial plan.
"Clients may not have considered certain situations, so it helps to have a few good examples to illustrate different issues and other benefits to bear in mind," Ms Cheung adds.
A good example of her own abilities is that she has made it through to the final round of the HKIB's Outstanding Financial Planner Awards competition. She says that the process has been a true test of professional performances and individual strengths. It has also been a great experience with the chance to industry experts, academics and a few of the celebrated names in the business world.
Ms Cheung says that questions put by the judging panel challenged her usual way of thinking and caused her to consider additional factors for devising a top-notch financial plan. She feels that the format of the competition has provided an excellent learning opportunity and strongly advises other financial planners to take the chance to compete in future.
"When you review your existing practices, you see where you can still improve and are sure to get some new insights about the financial planning profession," she says.
Essential skills for building relationships
- Ask and listen — the crucial first steps to understanding customer needs and reading between the lines to spot requirements that they may never have considered
- Observe — tone and pitch of voice, body languages and gestures can all convey extra information which may not be stated directly
- Care — follow-up is a key part of the process and shows customers that financial planners turn words into action
- Prepare — good organisation and clear presentation of materials are what customers expect
- Adjust — if necessary, put the customer at ease by first discussing some general topics. Watch for reactions and remember that each encounter is basically about business
- Impress customers with trustworthiness, sincerity, dedication and good preparation
- Break the ice with friendliness, good listening, questioning and observation skills
- Positive relationship facilitates collection of customers' information, done tactfully and with confidentiality assured
- Comprehensive arrangements to resolve doubts and concerns, bearing in mind customers' personalities and backgrounds
- Comprehensive arrangements to demonstrate dedication and care from the heart