On any given day, the classified ad pages are filled with job openings for financial planners. The banks, insurance companies and independent financial advisers placing these advertisements generally include assurances that they will provide successful applicants with appropriate training to obtain professional licences and industry certification. That is a key point, since, as the sector expands and becomes more tightly regulated, the importance of proper training for new joiners and of continuing professional development for more experienced staff has never been greater.
In order to groom candidates as successful financial planning managers, Juliana Lam, senior manager regulated sales, personal financial services at HSBC, highlights two essential factors. One is comprehensive training programmes which provide the knowledge to pass licensing examinations such as that of the Hong Kong Securities Institute (HKSI), the other is the development of "people skills".
The broad scope of financial planning entails in-depth understanding of wealth protection, investment options, retirement benefits and taxation schemes. A full training programme should, therefore, cover all of these plus specific local regulations governing insurance policies, the mandatory provident fund (MPF), tax rates and the social welfare system.
"We expect all our financial planning managers to get all the licences necessary," Ms Lam says. "They must sit for the HKSI, insurance and MPF exams. By passing those, they can build a foundation for understanding financial products and services."
Initial training at HSBC lasts four weeks and is compulsory for everybody, including those with previous experience. Financial planning managers learn how to make practical use of their knowledge by drawing up plans based on customer needs and utilising the full range of HSBC financial products. They also develop skills in dealing with customers and gaining their trust. As part of their training, candidates do role-play in mock customer consultations and later critique themselves by watching video playbacks.
After completing the training course, of which compliance and ethics is a major part, and passing all licensing exams, up-and-coming managers are also required to pass HSBC's internal accreditation exam. A six-month probation period then follows, during which they are paid a fixed base salary of HK$13,000 a month, with bonuses if they exceed benchmark targets. Two days of additional training courses must still be attended each month.
Once the probation period is over, the base monthly salary jumps to HK$15,000, excluding bonuses, and, in the next 18 months, a further 18 days of training on compliance, product updates and interpersonal skills are required. Besides the compulsory courses, supervisors and sales managers, who oversee 10 to 15 financial planning managers, are given specialised individual coaching to strengthen their supervisory skills.
HSBC also recommends that financial planning managers take certified financial planner (CFPCM) courses, as an additional obligation outside work, and expects them to obtain CFP certification awarded by the Institute of Financial Planners of Hong Kong. To assist staff studying for CFP certification, in-house courses and refresher workshops are organised.
Ms Lam believes that the time and resources put into training are paying off not only for the bank but also for customers and the employees themselves. "Unless the financial planning manager knows what to do, he or she will not be an efficient, effective employee and will not produce results," she says. "Training and profits ultimately go hand-in-hand."
She points out that the Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong (SFC) regulates the activities of industry professionals. "If you do something wrong, the SFC can penalise you and customers can sue you," she says.
Top-notch financial planners can make more than HK$1 million annually with some even getting double that amount. On average, those with two years' experience make HK$40,000 plus a month and performances, which determine bonuses, are evaluated not only by the figures but also the quality of service provided. "We recognise that well-trained professionals are better-equipped to serve customers and their performance will be reflected in their pay," Ms Lam adds.
As a senior manager for regulated sales, one of Ms Lam's responsibilities is to supervise a team of quality assurance managers to review the work done by financial planning managers and other regulated sales staff. This is to make sure their financial plans are meeting customer needs. "We also look closely at their daily disciplines," she explains. "Do they follow up on customer requirements and do they organise regular review meetings? We make sure they maintain constant contact with both old and new customers."
For those interested in careers in financial planning, Ms Lam says the prerequisite at HSBC is a college degree in any discipline and at least one or two years' working experience. The bank is now aiming to hire 100 more financial planning managers by the end of the third quarter and appropriate training courses are offered every month.