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Money Moves


This is a special edition introducing the career development and training opportunities in the insurance industry

Financial advisory services still expanding

by Anna Tong

Comprehensive training ensures smooth career takeoff

Denny Chan, director, Life Business, Zurich Insurance Group (Hong Kong)
Photo: Johnny Kwok

With Hong Kong's economic dynamo now back in top gear, people are turning to insurance companies for advice and services in retirement planning, asset management or more fruitful investments in a bid to secure a better life, particularly after retirement.

"The financial advisory industry has seen big changes since the beginning of 2000," says Denny Chan, director of Life Business, Zurich Insurance Group (Hong Kong). He explains that 2000 was a watershed year because of two major events that resulted in increased awareness of the need for advice in financial planning. Firstly, the government launched the Insurance Intermediaries Quality Assurance Scheme that requires all insurance practitioners to hold a licence obtained via exams, thereby standardising the whole insurance industry and upgrading its professionalism. Secondly, it introduced the Mandatory Provident Fund Scheme, with both employee and employer contributing five per cent of the salary to be invested in market funds. "People realise that the MPF may not fully provide for their retirement needs, and this in turn leads to a need for good advice about savings and investments," Mr Chan adds.

This situation, combined with Hong Kong's vibrant economic recovery in more recent years, helps boost the financial advisory industry. Investors have a handful of companies to turn to for investment guidance, ranging from insurance companies and banks to specialist investment service companies, all offering particular fields of expertise in wealth management.

At first glance, it seems that insurance companies face stiff competition from banks, but Mr Chan believes that the two entities aim at different markets with different systems of operations.

He stresses that financial planning industry has progressed greatly. In the past, clients merely gave agents or banks a lump sum to be placed in profitable investments. Today, he points out, it is all about detailed analysis and taking account of all aspects of the clients' needs, their lifestyle and life goals. "This requires more time and effort. For example, it takes about 45 minutes to get a full understanding of the client's financial situation, as well as explaining the diversification of risk," says Mr Chan.

Zurich's competitive edge is not so much in the investment products it promotes. Even if an insurer remains innovative by introducing new products to stay in line with the changing market trends, any new ideas can easily be adopted by industry players in just a few months. "Zurich holds a global reputation and can rightly be regarded as a top-tier company," says Mr Chan. Zurich's edge lies in its pledge to provide professional and quality service for clients. To do so, the company makes an effort and spends resources on training with an aim to nurture advisors who will then be able to seek and provide investment packages that best suit the client's particular needs. "It's not possible to compete on products alone. We'd rather excel in the quality of services," he says. It is our customer-centric culture that makes us stand out."

Together with this customer-centric culture, Zurich has formulated a new model that integrates the strength of the advisory services, and the career prospects at banks and insurer, with traditional agency management model. Mr Chan believes this new model offers the ideal career path to graduates or anyone aspired to joining the financial advisory industry. This gives the company an edge in attracting high-calibre candidates.

In 2004 Zurich launched the industry's first centralised recruitment and training platform. New recruits are now required to go through a two-stage intensive training course that lasts two and a half months.

"We would rather extend the duration of the training period than rushing them through a one-week course and see them lag behind in the market," says Mr Chan. Besides providing the knowledge and skills necessary to be competent advisors, the extended course gives the new recruits experience in finding different solutions to various situations. This also forearms them in giving sound financial advice when dealing with clients.

Zurich drafts in specialists to train the recruits in professional procedures from meeting and building relationships with clients to closing the deal. Instead of having one coach during training, recruits are attached to different departments to experience the working styles in sales and management. Such moves identify their strengths and help establish their preferences so their careers can be steered in the right direction.

"I believe there is plenty of room for the industry to grow and it is expected to attain much greater proportions in the future," Mr Chan concludes. "In response, we will continue to concentrate in enhancing our services and offerings, while increasing the number of quality advisors."


Taken from Career Times 02 February 2007, p. A2

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