Career Path

Depressed economy brings new opportunities

by Bernard Wan

Financial Planning
Juliana Lam
Senior Manager Sales,
Personal Financial Services

In a depressed world economy with consistently low interest rates and under-performing stock markets, more and more people feel the need to turn to finance professionals to ensure that they make the most of their resources.

The increased demand for financial planning services has led to recent popularity of the profession, with banks greatly expanding the number of their financial planning staff.

"Sometimes our customers only have hazy ideas about what they should do to achieve their financial goals. The role of our financial planning managers is to help customers arrange their financial resources and plan for the future," says Ms Juliana Lam, Senior Manager Sales, Personal Financial Services, The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited (HSBC) and Vice President of the Institute of Financial Planners of Hong Kong. "They can simply come and talk to us and we can prepare the first set of a financial plan for them in about 45 minutes."

Fast and reliable

Such fast response is partly made possible by the financial planning managers' refined analytic skills honed by training and experience and special software applications to aid the process.

Based on the factual information collected, financial planning managers can understand the profile of individual customers and offer them customized solutions and suggestions for the right kind of financial products and services, using a special software application called "Wealth Explorer" which facilitates planning.

"This process may seem simple enough on the surface; however, it involves a structured analytical process and requires experienced people to interpret the information," says Ms Lam.

"Our financial planning managers have to approach the planning process from different perspectives, taking into account a number of issues covering taxes, the investment risk profile, cash flow and the protection elements that the customers need to provide for themselves and their families. All these factors have to be synergized and explained to our customers."

"It's very special and personalized service which can't be generalized because different customers have different needs"

The right person...

Anticipating future business needs, HSBC plans to add more staff to its existing 400 financial planning managers. "We don't look for people with a strong financial background in particular. We'll consider those who can demonstrate mature thinking, are sensitive to figures and are presentable with strong interpersonal skills and empathy.

"A university degree is preferred because the new recruits are required to successfully pass a series of qualifying exams, and that involves some studying," Ms Lam explains. "A character trait of persistence is also important for getting the necessary information from the customers, without which analysis can't be carried out and good financial plans become impossible."

...with the right training

Newly appointed financial planning managers will undergo a three-week training session. "Most of the training time will be spent on coaching the managers about the financial planning process and conducting financial planning reviews. [We look at] how to explore customers' needs and present the solution alternatives to customers in a manner which is systematic and acceptable to them," says Ms Lam.

The training is intensive and packed with internal assessments and external exams. "They all have to pass our internal exams at the end of their training. We also expect them to take the relevant external licensing exams within the first three weeks. Altogether, they need to have five licenses to perform the job competently," Ms Lam explains.

Afterwards, the financial planning managers are placed in different branches to gain practical experience. In the next several months, they will return every week to receive a half-day of reinforcement training to polish their skills and enhance their professional knowledge.

Wealth of opportunities

"We encourage our financial planning managers to go for external professional recognition," says Ms Lam. To be qualified as a Certified Financial Planner (CFP), a person needs to pass six modules plus a ten-hour certifying exam, and have at least three years of relevant working experience for university graduates. At HSBC, a financial planning manager with a CFP qualification and outstanding performance is promoted to Executive Financial Planning Manager (EFPM) who commands a higher salary with better fringe benefits.

Experienced executive financial planning managers can also move to other management positions, such as division sales manager and customer relationship manager. Says Ms Lam: "Being a financial planning manager is just a starting point, which leads to a wide range of career opportunities and possibilities."

China Opportunities

Given the present regulatory environment and the relatively limited choice of financial services and products available on the Mainland, Ms Lam believes it is not possible at the moment for any financial organization to provide financial services and products under one roof. Because financial solutions cannot be offered through a one-stop service, as in some Hong Kong financial institutions, financial planners need to do a lot of coordination work in order to orchestrate the right solutions in China.

Financial planners who look to China for opportunities should have the required licenses, plus some accounting knowledge and an understanding of China's tax issues, Ms Lam advises.

Figures for reference only   K='000

Taken from Career Times 30 August 2002, p. 32
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