Money Moves

Decision time

Just because financial planning certification examinations are not compulsory does not mean that they are not beneficial, writes KS Lau

Currently, financial planners are still not legally required to hold a licence before they practise this profession. Why, therefore, should they voluntarily take any certification examinations?

"First, the designation helps enhance confidence and trust in me amongst colleagues and clients," says Marlinda Wong, BBA, MCom, FHKSA, CFPCM, FCCA. "The designation is well regarded in the field. When I was working in Australia, I found that the CFPCM [designation] was well known. When I returned to Hong Kong and became engaged in the financial planning arena, it was natural to enroll for the exams ..."

"In Australia, personal financial planning is in demand. There is at least one CFPCM in the branch offices of all the major banks. As such, I expect Hong Kong will follow the trend, so it was better to equip myself in advance," Ms Wong adds. "Preparing for the exams provided me with a solid foundation for advancing beyond the role of a traditional insurance agent as a professional financial planner."

Essentially, the importance of financial planning certification is growing. Although not necessarily required by law, pressure to be certified is coming from consumers and society. Australia is not alone in this; in Asia, Taiwan and Malaysia are already following the trend.

Given the wide choice, candidates should consider various elements before picking a course. The following includes my personal rankings:
1. Certificate recognition
Is it widely accepted by society? My ranking is: (1) CFPCM (2) ChFC (3) CFC.

2. Exam difficulty
Refer to a certification exam's pass rates. Based on highest pass rates, my ranking is: (1) RFP (2) RFC (3) CFC.

3. The availability of relevant quality courses
Review the number and quality of courses provided by higher educational institutions. Key issues include speakers, comprehensive materials and, most importantly, word-of-mouth reports. Generally, courses offered by the University of Hong Kong's School of Professional and Continuing Education, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the City University of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and the Hong Kong Productivity Council are of acceptable standards.

4. Professional bodies' level of services
This refers to continuous education programmes, their quality and frequency, etc. Generally, a professional body with a local chapter or branch is better equipped to serve members. Professional bodies have local offices and staff in Hong Kong for the following certifications: (1) CFPCM (2) CFC (3) RFP.

5. Your employer's preference
If your employer prefers a particular designation, your choice may be restricted. Some larger banks and insurance companies prefer CFPCM, but most financial institutions keep an open mind about financial planning credentials.

Finally, remember that exams are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Your client will not buy the products you recommend just because of the initials after your name. They will evaluate if you can clearly and concisely present products fit for their personal financial needs.

K S Lau, MSc, MBA, FCCA, FCPA, CFE. An accountant by profession, Mr Lau is specialised in corporate governance and management development. He is also the co-author of Q&A: Financial Planning Exams, a popular course book preparing students for financial planning examinations. For any enquiries regarding the article, you can contact Mr Lau on

Taken from Career Times 28 November 2003
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