Several years of experience in the banking industry have shown Grace Lam that upholding a professional image is essential for financial planners. While this image can be influenced by factors such as the reputation of the practitioner's employer, for the most part it comes down to the individuals and their services.
Ms Lam, financial planning manager, HSBC began her career in a frontline position before an internal transfer saw her working in the bank's mortgage business. She later moved to the Shenzhen office and in 2001 the bank's financial planning division after realising the sector's huge market potential.
One of the six finalists in the HKIB Outstanding Financial Planner Awards 2007, Ms Lam finds clients nowadays are more financially-conscious and proactive in looking for assistance from financial planners to manage their wealth when compared with those she encountered during her early years in the industry.
As clients have become more knowledgeable, financial planning practitioners and the market in general have also become more sophisticated. Ms Lam says this is reflected in the significance of the sector's code of ethics. "To safeguard the benefits of clients and demonstrate our professionalism, it is very important for financial planners to uphold the code of ethics and reiterate our roles to clients if misunderstandings exist," she notes.
For example, during the recent volatility on the stock market, many clients asked her for recommendations and advice about specific stocks as they aimed for immediate and lucrative returns. However, since she is not a licensed stockbroker, she always turned down their requests and reiterated her role and responsibilities as a financial planner. "Though they initially wanted me to help, eventually my denials won praise from clients and reinforced my professional image," she notes.
A good financial planner should always serve the best interests of the clients by understanding their needs, risk-bearing levels and investment goals. "Misleading clients to buy specific products based on the interests and personal judgments of financial planners is unacceptable," Ms Lam says. With this in mind, she always conducts a thorough review before recommending investment products to any of her clients.
To demonstrate a high level of integrity, financial planners utilise excellent communication skills. "Communication is fundamental for building up mutual understanding with clients," Ms Lam says. Understanding clients' needs is clearly a necessity but to do it right takes time. "I prefer to spend as much time as I can with my clients to better understand their needs," she adds. "It is the best way to develop a fruitful and long-term relationship."
As well as integrity and professionalism, financial planners require top quality products to best assist clients. Ms Lam says HSBC provides computer software which helps the bank's financial planning professionals to analyse and project clients' financial status effectively. Supervisors also have a key role to play, putting extra effort into testing and reviewing proposed products before they are introduced to clients.
The bank's name and reputation can also have an influence on aspects of financial planning. Ms Lam says a bank's brand can give an added advantage for financial planners as they develop their professional image and client relationships. "HSBC is a household name in financial and banking services so clients always assume we offer better quality services. As such, they are more willing to approach us and reveal their needs. But it also means they have higher expectations of us," she emphasises.
As a seasoned professional, Ms Lam enjoys challenge and this spurred her to join the Outstanding Financial Planner Awards this year. She also wanted to develop her career and widen her exposure in the industry. She tried her best to showcase her professionalism to the judges during the final presentation by demonstrating her good preparation and hard work. "Regardless of the outcome, it was an excellent opportunity and I enjoyed every part of the competition. It was an excellent way to refresh and enhance my professional knowledge," she says.