Although the public is increasingly aware of the importance of insurance protection and wealth management, that doesn't mean the work of insurance agents is getting any easier. In fact, as customers develop a better understanding of financial planning, they are also inclined to become more demanding and expect customised services which match their needs and provide optimal results.
"People have different needs depending on where they are in life," says Julia Wong, director of sales for CMG Asia Ltd. "Today's customers focus more on getting professional advice to plan for their futures and manage wealth, so that they can achieve all their goals from home ownership to providing for their children's education."
Personalisation is the direction insurance and wealth management services are now taking. To make this possible, it is first necessary to win the trust of customers, so they are willing to disclose confidential information about their earnings, savings, assets and liabilities. Insurance consultants, who must obviously be trustworthy individuals, need this information to understand a client's situation and help them prepare for the future.
"Insurance consultants are customer- oriented, proactive and in charge of their own careers," says Ms Wong. "They always give clients top priority and are available to provide services seven days a week at flexible hours." She also points out that a personalised level of service is the key thing that differentiates insurance companies from banks, which are also actively developing their wealth management business.
On this theme, she mentions that the respective duties of financial planners in banks and insurance companies are getting more alike and that around 10 percent of CMG Asia's new recruits come from the banking sector. For those who move, the major attraction of the insurance profession is that financial rewards and opportunities for promotion are closely tied to performance.
People make the difference
The insurance industry is one of few to have experienced continuous robust growth in recent years. CMG Asia recorded a 40 percent increase in new business in 2004 and further substantial growth of not less than 20 percent is expected for 2005.
To support business development, they have been expanding their sales force and aim to add 200 new recruits this year, representing an increase of over 16 percent in the total headcount. Strict standards for consultants mean that it is not always easy to find the right candidates. A university degree is not essential, but can help during future training, and previous work experience in sales and marketing is preferred.
Among the various requirements, Ms Wong suggests that personality and attitude to work are the most important. "Candidates must be positive, aggressive and persistent," she adds. To win trust and maintain long-lasting relationships with clients, consultants must also be patient, honest and responsible. Entrepreneurial flair is a prerequisite and, as Ms Wong emphasises, "If you are not brave enough to take challenges and are looking for guaranteed income, this will definitely not be your cup of tea."
Moreover, newcomers must have the determination to succeed right from the start. "They should be sure that this is what they want to do and not give up easily," notes Ms Wong. She points out the most critical period for consultants is often the second year, when they have to face the real challenge of searching for new clients after completing their basic training and making initial sales among the circle of their friends and relatives.
CMG Asia regularly advertises and organises roadshows for recruitment purposes, but still finds that referral is the most effective method and that clients are the most reliable referees. "That is because clients, who know all the essential qualities of a good financial planner, have already helped in screening when they propose a candidate," Ms Wong explains.
From day one in the insurance industry, a new recruit will notice the emphasis on continuous professional training. In this respect, CMG Asia begins with a month-long programme in product knowledge, financial planning skills, the sales cycle and corporate culture. It is followed by a period of coaching by immediate supervisors during joint calls and customer meetings which encourage learning through practical experience. After that, trainees are expected to attend internal training courses over the next six months in order to obtain the relevant licences and acquire other professional skills related to image building, communications, presentations, time management and customer servicing.
To ensure the standard of professionalism of their consultants, CMG Asia spent a year developing a three-year financial planning programme with the Chinese University of Hong Kong. This was launched in 2003 and consists of three levels Ñe xecutive, certificate and diploma. Its objective is to help consultants with two or more years' experience to take their financial planning skills and knowledge to the next level.
"In the insurance industry, there are innovative products, but people make the difference," says Ms Wong. "As a result, it is important for us to be one step ahead in training so as to maintain our competitive edge."
- Further strong growth is expected in the insurance and
financial planning sectors
- Insurance companies stress the importance of personalised
- Up to 200 new recruits will be added to the sales force
- Candidates must possess entrepreneurial flair and be thinking
of a long-term career
- A comprehensive induction programme and continuing education
courses meet training needs