If the first thing to catch your eye when you walk into a meeting room is a large smiley face decorating the window, you know straightaway that you are visiting a company that wants to make a statement about its corporate culture and the way it deals with clients.
"When we see any client, we smile. No matter how they respond, we maintain a friendly attitude and do all we can to make them happy," says Andy Brown, general manager of AXA Advisers, AXA China Region Insurance Company Limited.
Now with over 20 years' experience in the insurance business, Mr Brown transferred from New Zealand to set up the company in 2000 and has seen it grow rapidly from the initial team of five salaried financial consultants to the current headcount of 275.
The consultants' main responsibilities include introducing different wealth management products to clients, explaining their comparative benefits and providing after-sales services. This differs, for example, from the standard role of insurance agents because AXA's financial consultants do not need to spend much of their time prospecting to find new clients - that is taken care of by the lead management team. However, the consultants are trained to ask for referrals from their clients.
In Mr Brown's opinion, this clear structure and focused approach has been a major factor in allowing the company to achieve higher productivity. AXA has a number of teams which focus on specialist areas. Within these, the manager oversees the new leads and monitors the level of activity; the consultants' role is to offer clients wealth management solutions which will help them to meet their financial goals. Using this business model, each consultant is expected to see three clients a day. In meetings, though, there is more time to build trust, which is the foundation for the kind of long-term relationships which underpin any successful insurance business.
"Our 25 managers don't have to sell to clients. Their prime responsibility is to train, motivate and manage the activities of their teams. This helps to free up time for the consultants who can then be sure of offering clients better quality services and the appropriate solutions," says Mr Brown.
To support consultants, the company also runs various campaigns to maintain close contact with clients and prospects. They might, for instance, send a card or gift on a client's birthday and, at the same time, suggest a meeting to review current financial needs. Business partnerships have been developed with a number of companies to facilitate these initiatives.
When considering what it takes to be a successful consultant, Mr Brown says that adaptability certainly helps. "Every person is different, so being able to read a client and adopt a flexible approach is an important skill. If your client is talkative, you should listen more and let him share his thoughts and needs. If he is analytical, you should try to provide details and the kind of information that would be of interest."
To ensure the right calibre of people are recruited, AXA pays close attention to both academic credentials and any previous experience. Among current employees, 70 per cent hold university degrees, while most had work experience in the finance or insurance sector before joining. Every year, around five graduates are taken on for a special trainee programme, and the qualities required for this include a strong sense of responsibility and a mature outlook.
Overall, starting salaries range between HK$12,000 and HK$28,000 a month, depending on the person's background. To encourage excellence, top performers are awarded a generous bonus of over HK$60,000 per month.
The company has a firm belief in the importance of education, so all new recruits start by taking a standard one-month training programme. During this, they learn in detail about corporate procedures, various financial products, and useful counselling techniques and interpersonal skills.
The management team also arranges sessions to share experiences and conduct role-plays which highlight different scenarios and potential difficulties. Mr Brown also encourages staff to obtain the professional qualification of certified financial plannerCM and to be knowledgeable about market trends and the world in general.
He points out that salaried financial consultants have a clear career path. They can move up to senior consultant and, in three further steps, to the level of senior executive financial manager. If they switch to a management role, they can ultimately be promoted to the post of senior business development manager. Either route can offer the advantages of stability, steady progress and attractive remuneration.
"There is a system in the company which creates a calm environment for the team," Mr Brown notes. "We all have our defined roles and know what is expected of us. Everyone feels the support here because everything is under control and well managed."
Divide and rule
- Salaried financial consultants focus on client contacts
and providing wealth management advice, while managers oversee
- Business model allows a structured approach and better
- The best candidates possess good academic qualifications,
work experience and flexibility
- The company emphasises the importance of training and
the need to obtain professional qualifications
- There is a clear career path for both consultants and
those in managerial roles