Nowadays, most banks have sophisticated IT systems storing customer data and allowing easy retrieval of all details. Though they make full use of these systems, financial planners realise that their professional success is ultimately built on interpersonal skills and having the intuition and knowledge to identify and recommend solutions for a client's financial needs.
"The essential considerations are to think a few steps ahead, aim to exceed expectations and, above all, to bear in mind that customers may not be familiar with all the different areas of investment," says Julian Ho, customer relationship manager of HSBC.
He explains that clients should therefore be given enough information to feel comfortable about any decision and feel confident that the investments they choose will generate the expected returns. To reach that position, a financial planner must address a number of specific concerns, not all of which are immediately apparent.
The usual procedure during the first meeting or two is to run through some general principles of investment and recent market trends. The next step is to ask the customer to provide some information about income and assets in order to calculate examples of the returns expected from different investment products over various periods.
This helps the customer to focus on their actual level of risk tolerance and to think about their monthly expenditure and current spending patterns before drafting a comprehensive financial plan. "We must make sure there is no ambiguity or misunderstanding," says Mr Ho.
He adds that the process of reviewing income and expenditure often turns up discrepancies on statements, mistakes in direct debits and incorrect fees.
Once the requirements and risks have been analysed, a financial plan agreed and the relevant investments made accordingly. However, that is by no means the end of the matter. A good relationship manager will continue to keep in touch on a regular basis and, in the meantime, monitor the performance of the portfolio. "A simple phone call may be enough to update customers, but this can still show genuine care for their best interests," Mr Ho says.
As one of the finalists in the HKIB Outstanding Financial Awards competition, Mr Ho's professional abilities have obviously caught the eye of the judges. He admits to finding the competition a tough challenge, but says that it has also given him new insights into what clients expect from a financial planner. Another good feature of the contest has been the chance to compare notes with professionals from other organisations and hear about their experiences.
As a high achiever and enthusiastic learner, Mr Ho is always on the lookout for opportunities to enhance his personal and professional skills. HSBC's e-learning programmes and staff library allow him to study a wide range of subjects at his own pace and when he chooses. "One of the best ways to progress is by taking courses and accepting challenges," he says.
"I intend to keep doing both."
Trust in financial planning
- One-stop service ¡X when customers are preparing to move house or take a trip overseas, a good financial planner would remind them to get home or travel insurance. Doing this also helps to establish trust as clients feel someone is there to help.
- Individual and personalised decisions ¡X two customers may have similar incomes but quite different financial obligation and goals. Each plan should therefore provide a workable and acceptable solution for the person of family concerned.
- Focus ¡X customers may become good friends, but the planner should never forget the basis of the relationship and should ensure that the customer's investment objectives get full attention.
- Timely updates ¡X some organisations maintain close contact with customers when the market is good, but not when it hits a slump. That, though, is precisely when updates and advice may be most needed.
- Coordination ¡X customers may not want to disclose information about all their assets. However, if they do, it is easier to prepare a comprehensive financial plan.
- Varying needs and concerns ¡X customers new to the concept of financial planning may not know what to expect. They should be given more guidance to avoid unsuitable choices and more assistance in making decisions.
- Trusting relationship built on continuous communication
- Recognise financial goals and ensure customers fully understand product features
- Understand a customer's financial status and investment experience
- Structure financial plan to anticipate changing needs
- Timely management and updates as part of ongoing customer service