Recruitment efforts in the financial planning industry tend to concentrate on hiring either people with experience and professional qualifications in the field, or fresh graduates who can be trained to learn the business from scratch. There is, though, another option: finding candidates with extensive work experience in other sectors, who have the ability to pick up the necessary sales and consulting skills quickly.
According to Steve Pang, manager of New Advisor Development Centre, Zurich Insurance Group (Hong Kong), the company targets two main groups. One consists of people with some practical knowledge of banking and finance, the other includes those looking for a second career and good long-term prospects in the insurance industry. Therefore, applications from the likes of accountants, IT specialists and teachers are all given full consideration.
Mr Pang says it is not essential to have a background in sales, but does emphasise that communication skills and a knack for relationship building are important considerations.
In a bid to enhance standards of professionalism in the local insurance industry, Zurich opened the first cadet school for financial and insurance advisors in 2004. The main objective was to attract the very best recruits and develop a team capable of representing the company in a fast expanding market and presenting a consistent corporate image.
The initial in-house training course lasts for 15 weeks and provides both theoretical knowledge and practical skills. It includes classroom sessions, extra-curricular activities, and a period of apprenticeship. During this, trainees are not given a specific sales quota, but are assessed by means of a scoring system and required to accomplish certain tasks, such as making appointments and fact-finding about potential new customers.
The training programme also functions as a probation period, allowing both the company and the new recruits to decide if they are well suited. Those who move on to become full-time team members can claim to have a genuine competitive edge within the industry.
Zurich currently has around 700 frontline financial planning professionals and plans to recruit aggressively in 2006 to sustain business growth. However, this will have to be done in the face of keen competition for the best candidates from banks, other insurance companies and independent financial advisors.
All these employers see the continuing potential for the industry in Hong Kong. According to Mr Pang, there are roughly 270,000 millionaires in Hong Kong, but fewer than 60 per cent of them rely on financial planning professionals to help manage their wealth. Nevertheless, he expects rising demand for financial and insurance advisory services, as the public becomes increasingly aware of their value and significance.
Among the other challenges ahead, he notes the need to promote higher levels of professionalism and to implement stricter rules and regulations. For example, financial planners may soon be required to disclose the commission they earn for selling specific investment products. Such measures, Mr Pang believes, will help to ensure the integrity of agents and that they focus on the needs of the client.