Financial planning is now one of the fastest growing industries in Hong Kong. Banks, insurance companies and independent financial advisers all have ambitious plans for further large-scale recruitment this year and are confident that the market for wealth products and services will continue to expand. When hiring, these employers commonly look for proven sales experience and regard it as a valuable asset in anyone keen to pursue a career in the sector.
Dave Kwan, managing director of Centaline Wealth Management Ltd, confirms that candidates with a track record in selling insurance or financial products, or even in other industries, are always viewed favourably. He points out that the financial planning industry requires a certain amount of sales skills and that anyone who has already made their mark in such a role will have an advantage.
"In addition to having to deal with a lot of challenges and rejections, a sales job requires a high degree of maturity and the skill to manage relationships with different types of customer," says Mr Kwan. As a result, he advises graduates to think carefully before deciding to accept a position in sales and, if they do, to be prepared to persevere when they encounter obstacles or setbacks.
Centaline's own policy is to assess an applicant's attitude before anything else. "The first priorities for our consultants are high ethical standards, thinking positively and being proactive in dealing with customers," says Mr Kwan. "They have to remain confident in the face of any difficulties or frustrations and have to show the commitment and persistence to get the job done."
With the general availability of ever more information, the work of financial planners is becoming increasingly complex. Customers are more knowledgeable and competition is keener. Independent financial planners are not just advisers but must be able to create value for clients, says Mr Kwan. "For example, when preparing an investment plan, they must fully understand the customer's goal," he says. "Then they have to do research and analysis, compare the different financial products and present the results effectively for the client's consideration."
For long-term success, financial consultants must be able to build up a network and gain referrals. In this respect, though, Centaline Wealth Management provides assistance. As a wholly owned subsidiary of Centaline Group, a market leading property agency, they can draw on the parent company's client database and pass referrals about high net worth individuals to financial consultants.
However, Mr Kwan emphasises that a long-term approach should be employed to build good relationships with customers. This depends not just on honesty and sincerity, but also on providing clients with updates about the latest market trends, reviewing their investment portfolios regularly, and offering useful advice. What starts as a business relationship can often develop into friendship, with consultants even sending birthday cards to many of their clients.
In order to support frontline staff, Centaline offers comprehensive training for all new recruits. The programme covers product knowledge, essential sales skills and related compliance issues. It takes three to four weeks and is followed by an examination. Experienced consultants may receive exemptions from certain parts of the course.
All consultants, however, must sign on for ongoing development programmes. These include formal training to fulfil the requirements for continuous professional training set by the Securities and Futures Commission. In addition, the company's consultants have to attend a weekly training session where they are encouraged to share experiences, especially about how to win new business. When necessary, external trainers will be brought in to run courses on leadership and the enhancement of self-confidence.
A career as a financial consultant can undoubtedly be very rewarding. According to Mr Kwan, some of his employees now earn in the millions each year. He also points out that career advancement is usually faster than in other industries and that a consultant may be promoted to team leader within three or four years.
As in many sales-related jobs, personal income is directly linked to a person's performance and capabilities. Centaline encourages consultants to achieve the maximum by allowing them to follow their own preferred method of working and judging success by the results they achieve.
Despite various changes at a macro-economic level, the investment market in Hong Kong is expected to remain buoyant. It will be sustained by continuing stable growth in Hong Kong and the mainland, meaning that the demand for professional financial planning and investment advisory services should increase. With members of the general public becoming more aware of the importance of wealth management to prepare for their future financial needs, Mr Kwan says there are sure to be many more opportunities for professionals with sales skills and investment knowledge.
- Sales skills are a key attribute for anyone keen to build
a career in financial planning
- Success depends on establishing long-term relationships
and a good network
- All financial consultants must undertake continuous professional
- Rewards are generally commission-based and can be substantial
- Promotions are faster than in more traditional industries