Well-organised industry award competitions can go a long way to raise professional standards and provide recognition for deserving individuals.
The HKIB Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards is a case in point. Now running for its fourth year, the awards provide wealth management practitioners with a channel to assess their levels of professionalism.
"It is also a valuable platform for banks and financial institutions to share industry knowledge and experience," notes Carrie Leung, chief executive officer, the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (the HKIB). "We're delighted to have received more than 200 enrolments this year, 10 per cent more than last year. This proves that banks and financial institutions see the event as an important industry benchmarking exercise for promoting best practice and professionalism."
The 2009 awards have a strong focus on industry compliance management, Ms Leung says.
"Candidates placed significant emphasis on ways to comply with industry rules and regulations in their submitted written plans, as well as with the guidelines set by the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) to protect investors' interests," she adds.
When the annual awards were first launched in 2006, the HKIB coined the acronym TRUST to encompass its assessment criteria. TRUST stands for "trusting relationship", "recognising financial goals", "understanding financial status", "structuring a financial plan that meets the goals" and "timely management of agreed financial plans".
"The TRUST model stresses that the wealth management process is not a sales process," says Ms Leung. "The profession requires a wide range of skills, including an in-depth understanding of customer needs and excellent interpersonal communication. These aspects go beyond the mere technical knowledge required."
The awards therefore serve to reinforce a culture of high ethical standards within the wealth management profession and banking as a whole.
Financial institutions have widely adopted the TRUST guidelines as a recognised industry best practice model and basis for in-house training. The model also provides guiding principles for every stage of the financial management planning process.
In spite of the global financial crisis and negative market sentiments, Ms Leung believes that the wealth management industry will continue to grow.
"Wealth management is an ongoing process and people require different investment strategies and portfolios to meet their needs at specific stages of their lives," she says. "We therefore expect the demand for professional services to grow as people become increasingly aware of the importance of wealth management."
Ms Leung concedes that the financial crisis has made investors extra cautious, with a particularly guarded approach to selecting financial planners and products. This has given industry players the necessary impetus to improve their systems, enforcing new policies and stressing continuous professional development training in order to regain investors' trust.
As part of its efforts to bolster professional development within the wealth management industry, the HKIB continues to be a conferring body of the Certified Financial Management PlannerTM (CFMPTM) designation. There are currently around 900 certified planners in Hong Kong and, with more than 2,000 candidates currently working towards the qualification, Ms Leung anticipates a significant increase over the next few years.
The institute also provides a comprehensive range of training programmes, including continuous professional development (CPD) courses to maintain wealth management professionals' skills levels and to keep them updated with the latest industry developments and regulations.
"Such continuous industry training and development opportunities help practitioners to adhere to the industry standards that ensure the best outcomes for their clients," Ms Leung concludes.