Professional investment advice is now in greater demand than ever. Many Hongkongers, keen as always to earn quick returns from the stock market and now taking a closer interest in the performance of their MPF funds, are looking to financial analysts for advice.
Ben Kwong is an expert in this area and has already made himself a household name. His commentaries on market movements are extensively quoted in the Hong Kong and international press and his interpretation of financial trends has generally proved correct.
When not in the media spotlight, Mr Kwong works for KGI Asia Limited, a full-service brokerage firm, which he joined as a director in 1999. Every day, he provides insights about the markets, different sectors and individual companies for the firm's clients and its sales team. "In this role, it is absolutely essential to have sharp analytical skills and the ability to think objectively and calmly, without letting your emotions get the better of you," he says.
When he started out more than a decade ago, Mr Kwong spent as much time as he could reading newspapers, business magazines and reports to improve his own ability to analyse what moves markets. He still does this, but can now rely much more on his professional intuition, experience and judgment. If time allows, he will also attend social functions, seminars and briefings to pick up industry news and other opinions first hand.
Mr Kwong believes that, in his field, personal integrity is of paramount importance. "It is vital for financial analysts to avoid conflicts of interest and resist temptation," he explains. "Otherwise, it will give the impression that your advice is unreliable and may be based on self-interest. This will sound the death knell for a career in our industry."
It is vital for financial analysts to avoid conflicts of interest and resist temptation
As chief operating officer, Mr Kwong naturally has a wide range of management responsibilities. These involves giving direction and finding ways to balance the different perspectives and priorities of colleagues in various departments.
"For instance, our salespeople might prefer less stringent credit criteria as this would bring in more business for them," he says. "However, I have to consider that against the need for tighter internal credit controls, which will safeguard our firm's reputation and financial stability." In addition, he must monitor overall performance levels very closely and ensure that targets are achieved.
A typical working day begins at 8:15am, with the preparation of a morning briefing to be broadcast to staff at the firm's three local branches. After that, Mr Kwong will write his financial commentaries for a regular column and follows that up by attending the daily internal meeting and fielding press inquiries. He handles the more routine administrative work in the afternoon, before hosting a financial commentary programme for Commercial Radio Hong Kong.
Looking back, Mr Kwong says that becoming a financial analyst has been "a dream come true". Even before graduating from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in the 1980s, he was eager to do this, but was uncertain whether he could make it. "I had studied economics, but to enter this profession, you normally need a background in finance or accountancy," he explains. "Now I have attained my professional dream and I have to say luck did play a part in my career climb."
The real turning point came in 1990, when he joined Morgan Grenfell Asia Securities (HK) Ltd as an economist. "At that time, I had no experience in financial analysis, but I was hired nonetheless, mainly because I had been working previously for a Chinese investment firm and had a certain knowledge of China-play stocks."
Gradually, he took on more financial analysis and gained further experience when he subsequently moved on to work for Standard Chartered Securities (HK) Ltd, G.K. Goh Securities (HK) Ltd and Dharmala Securities. Along the way, he managed to establish a reputation for being well informed and media friendly.
Mr Kwong points out that it is essential for anyone who wants to get into the industry to have the right academic qualifications. "For those setting their sights on a career as a financial analyst, it is best to acquire a degree in finance or accountancy initially and work on getting chartered financial analyst credentials," he says. "Equally important, candidates must have a positive work attitude and be ready to go that extra mile."
Mr Kwong is optimistic that financial analysts who want either to work in the mainland or to specialise in China stocks can look forward to a bright future.
"It is just a matter of time before the mainland government relaxes investment regulations and allows mainland citizens to invest in Hong Kong," he says. "When this becomes a reality, the opportunities for advancement for local financial analysts will be immense."