Financial Planning / Wealth Management
Benefits of the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards reached beyond personal gains. Grace Chan spoke with members of the judging panel.
A key feature of this year's HKIB awards was the introduction of a new financial planning category for high net worth individuals, which made the competition even more relevant in the current business scenario, says Kalok Chan, head and professor, Department of Finance, School of Business and Management, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
As the wealth management industry evolves, client expectations continue to increase and, on a whole, this year's participants performed outstandingly, Professor Chan notes, adding that the initiative not only encourages practitioners to enhance their knowledge and share experience, but also recognises top achievers and promotes a professional and positive image of the industry.
"As a panel judge, I too, gained a deeper understanding of both the market and the industry. This will subsequently help me to contribute to the introduction of relevant academic programmes for developing talent," he says.
Financial planners should constantly hone their technical skills, but in order to exceed their customers' expectations, they also need to have a broad understanding of the market, Professor Chan stresses.
As the wealth management sector expands, the vast array of product and investment options available can be bewildering. A chief role of financial planners is therefore to help customers prioritise their needs, says Amy Choi, managing director and regional market manager, Guangdong Development Bank.
Ms Choi notes that both the level of the competition and the participants' performances have improved this year.
"The hypothetical cases that they worked on closely resembled real-life scenarios, covering not only the financial needs of the clients, but also those of their siblings," she adds. "The finalists demonstrated a thorough understanding of their customers' financial goals and advised them expertly. The final proposals incorporated thoughtful solutions that truly met the clients' needs."
Ms Choi, who recently moved to Guangzhou, says the recent growth in the number of wealthy mainland banking customers has led to a significant increase in demand for wealth management services.
"Given the geographical proximity of Hong Kong and the wide range of financial products available in the city, savvy local practitioners are in a good position to capitalise on new business opportunities," she observes.
The high level of professionalism and confidence displayed by this year's finalists were impressive, says Andy Hon, head of retail distribution, personal financial services, HSBC Hong Kong.
Mr Hon, a final-round judge for the second time, notes that in addition to making an effort to understand their customer's financial circumstances, needs and goals, the finalists also showed meticulously and systematically how their recommendations would benefit the clients in difficult market conditions.
"They articulated complex concepts in layman's terms and showed particularly strong technical and communication skills during the Q&A sessions, where they addressed all questions with detailed and precise responses, in spite of the judges challenging them on a range of issues."
Mr Hon notes that the HKIB Awards have been well received by the industry. "Not only does the competition set benchmarks, it also provides a good opportunity for bankers to refresh their knowledge and skills and to gain new insights."
He believes the competition has helped to raise the sector's profile and to enhance public awareness of the importance of a thoughtful, holistic approach to financial planning.
This year's finalists were highly professional, demonstrating the exemplary communication skills and confidence essential for developing effective client relations, according to Sermon Kwan, chief executive, Greater China region and Korea, Bank of Singapore.
Pointing out that the finalists had all been handpicked and supported by their banks, Mr Kwan says he was not surprised to find that they were all cream of the crop. He would nonetheless have liked to see more individuality and personal touches in their recommendations. "Wealth management is about people. In order to draw up a truly tailor-made solution, you have to think out of the box," he remarks.
A solution-driven, personalised proposal is particularly important when it comes to the sophisticated financial needs of high net worth individuals. Mr Kwan adds: "The challenge for the finalists was to offer a wider choice of options. To go the extra mile, they had to be more than just good salespeople."
While Mr Kwan is optimistic about the future of Hong Kong's financial planning sector, he believes that wealth managers should continuously upgrade their technical expertise and soft skills, and that banks should increasingly invest in staff training to boost professionalism.
This year's HKIB Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards candidates maintained a high level of integrity, says William Leung, executive director and head of personal banking, Hang Seng Bank Limited.
"Wealth managers don't have a magic wand that can turn unrealistic financial goals into feasible investment propositions. Practitioners with an understanding of risk management, who advise their customers against unwise decisions can therefore make a real difference," he stresses.
Mr Leung, a final-round judge in the competition, has noticed continuous improvement in the quality of participants from year to year. "It's getting more challenging to measure the level of competence of the finalists, since they've all come prepared," he notes.
Hang Seng Bank undertakes to continue to enter its best candidates in the competition and to support staff development by helping employees pursue professional qualifications such as the HKIB's Certified Financial Management PlannerTM (CFMPTM) accreditation. The bank takes its responsibility to assign the right financial planners to clients very seriously, adds Mr Leung. "Wealth managers with sophisticated sales experience serve in the red zone—where investment product transactions may be conducted, while others start off in a green zone," he reveals.
Participants in this year's HKIB Awards showcased professionalism and a good understanding not only of issues involving the local wealth management industry but also those on the global landscape. This is the view of panel judge Amy Lo, managing director, regional market manager, Hong Kong, UBS Wealth Management, UBS AG..
Ms Lo notes particularly that entrants in the new competition category (the high net worth clients group) demonstrated the skills needed to address the financial aspirations of sophisticated clients who are already very knowledgeable and well-informed on various market offerings.
"The growing high net worth and ultra high net worth client population in Hong Kong will increase the sophistication of the industry and will prompt financial advisors to stay relevant and competent. People who already possess the technical know-how must continually find ways to improve their knowledge and update their skills to keep pace with rapid global change," she says.
"The HKIB Awards is an important initiative which helps raise the standards in the banking and finance industry, and further establishes Hong Kong as a global wealth management centre," she adds.
This year's HKIB Awards participants demonstrated not only a high level of professionalism, but also a thorough understanding of the wealth management profession, says Raymond So, programme director, dean, School of Business, Hang Seng Management College.
Mr So, who has been on the judging panel every year since the competition's inception, adds that the participants also showed exceptional integrity, prioritising their clients' best interests above their own. "Their performances proved that practitioners now adhere to a strong customer-centric ethic, which is good news for customers," he remarks.
Rather than simply achieve quick sales, planners these days look at wealth management from their clients' perspective, attempting to find solutions that will enhance their quality of life, Mr So notes. This, in turn, leads to trusting relationships and mutual understanding between the parties.
It is practitioners' duty to clearly explain to investors why certain financial goals may be unrealistic or unachievable and to draw up feasible proposals to meet their needs, he points out, adding that a growing interest in health issues has created a gap in the market for the development of appropriate products and services.
In view of growing economic relations between Hong Kong and Macau, Wan Sin-long, executive director, board of directors, Monetary Authority of Macao, hopes award winners will share the industry best practice, knowledge and experience gained from the competition with their counterparts in the region, helping to improve overall standards.
In addition to providing top financial planners with the opportunity to interact, the competition has also drawn senior banking executives, representatives from the regulators and academics together.
"The competition has given participants a chance to engage with the judges and to find out what their expectations are, therefore helping them to enhance their professional competence, and on the other hand, allowed the judges to enhance their understanding of the latest situation of financial planning development in the local market so as to optimise business practices and corresponding regulation and supervision," he says.
A first-time judge for the competition, Mr Wan was impressed by the participants' thorough understanding of the sector, as well as their clear passion for the profession.
"Wealth managers should ensure that they keep up with market trends and regulatory requirements and listen attentively to their clients in order to understand their needs and provide them with ever-improving, customised wealth management services," he adds.
As a panel judge who has witnessed the increasing professionalism of candidates over the past five years, Arthur Yuen, deputy chief executive, Hong Kong Monetary Authority, is satisfied that the HKIB Awards have been a great success.
"The finalists displayed exceptional soft skills, but I was also glad to see that they prioritised risk management in their proposals," he says, adding that all financial planners should ensure that their clients clearly understand not only the risks involved with their investment portfolios, but also the possible repercussions of economic upswings and downturns.
This is particularly important, since wealth management is a long-term process spanning at least two or three economic cycles. "Given that a financial plan contains many assumptions, clients should be informed of the possible scenarios that they may need to face and the sensitivity of returns to the various assumptions," he says.
Although Hong Kong's well-developed legal system and financial infrastructure, and the wide array of investment products on offer in the city give it an edge, practitioners should continuously upgrade their professionalism to stay competitive, Mr Yuen stresses. "An increasing number of affluent mainland investors are currently exploring opportunities to diversify their investments into other markets. While Hong Kong is definitely their first option, it's not necessarily their only one," he cautions.
Taken from Career Times 5 November 2010, A6, A12, A13
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