As clients' knowledge of investment markets grows, financial planners must continuously raise the bar. One of the finalists of the Outstanding Financial Planner Awards 2007 says that this means focusing on more than just better product knowledge.
Irene Leung, customer relationship manager at HSBC has been with the bank for seven years, five of which have been in the bank's growing financial planning division. Ms Leung's aspiration developed early when she was still in university. "I could see the market potential and was confident that my outgoing personality, optimistic character and passion for knowledge would be added advantages for me to achieve career goals in the industry," she says.
At university she completed a bachelor of science and then a bachelor of laws degree, while studying simultaneously for a professional designation for financial planning on a part-time basis. These qualifications are valuable as she believes that they provide a frame of reference in developing trust and credibility with clients.
Ms Leung stresses it is essential for financial planning professionals to continuously update their knowledge and skills. To enhance her competence and fulfil industry requirements, she undertakes continuous professional development and training as specified by the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority, the Hong Kong Federation of Insurers and the Securities and Futures Commission. "Investment markets evolve rapidly and talent alone is not enough to sustain long-term success in the industry. It requires hard work and dedication," she says.
Based on her observations, Ms Leung says today's clients are financially aware. However, they have limited time to filter and analyse information, which is why financial planners must be well versed in their roles as both consultants and advisors, absorbing relevant information so as to provide the most up-to-date details on a range of products.
Ms Leung enjoys interacting with her clients and the challenges she encounters while helping them realise their financial goals. "Today's customers have a good understanding of the markets and so expect their financial planners to be capable of proposing investment strategies and explaining the pros and cons while also showing a high level of integrity," she says. By demonstrating outstanding technical knowledge and communicating effectively, Ms Leung believes that she can gain clients' confidence and develop long-term relationships.
To keep abreast of industry developments, Ms Leung spends a substantial amount of time every day conducting research and searching the Internet for valuable information using her own knowledge management system. "I store useful information in a database so that I can retrieve and use it to help explain technical information to a client," she explains.
On the rare occasions Ms Leung does allow herself some downtime. She likes reading newspapers and books on a range of topics such as philosophy, history, biography and finance. She also likes cartoons as she believes they offer a different take on understanding human behaviour. "Clients are unique: their character, risk tolerance and attitude toward investment all differ. A better understanding of human behaviour can help financial planners in many ways," she says. "Sometimes I just like to observe people and study their behaviour. It can offer excellent insights for client communications." Other topics of interest, though not strictly related to financial planning, can act as an icebreaker, she adds.
In addition to developing hard and soft skills, Ms Leung says improving creativity also helps financial planners stand out from their counterparts. "We are always troubleshooting so it helps to have a creative and inquisitive mind."
This year was Ms Leung's first to participate in the HKIB Outstanding Financial Planner Awards. "As it's my fifth year in the industry, I figured it was high time I put my skills to the test. The experience has been amazing and I am sure it will be useful for my future career development," she says.