Resourceful and competent financial advisers stick by their customers through the ups and downs of global economic cycles.
Jessica Lee, a premier relationship manager at HSBC, believes that her varied role includes helping customers cope with the consequences of the financial downturn and regain confidence in the volatile investment market.
"Change is inevitable in this sector and it is crucial that we, as HSBC relationship managers, keep in close contact with our customers throughout our association with them," Ms Lee says. "Our aim is to help them understand the importance of taking a long-term view of their portfolios. This is key to building trust and an ongoing customer relationship. At HSBC, we all work together to make sure that we provide a service characterised by sincerity and integrity."
Ms Lee's skills and competence have gained her one of six finalist positions in this year's Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB) Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards.
"This annual competition is one of the highlights of the industry. Participating in the competition has given me a great opportunity to review the practices and skills necessary to efficiently steer the financial planning process," she notes.
She found the training and support provided by the bank, her managers and her colleagues invaluable. "My supervisors and peers take the HKIB competition seriously," she notes.
Wealth management is a long-term process requiring clear vision, perseverance and patience, Ms Lee notes.
In line with this, she spares no efforts in maintaining a constructive relationship with her customers. For instance, when the stock market collapsed last year, she proactively contacted her customers to provide them with up-to-date information to ease their concerns.
"Volatility and the overall lack of confidence in the market put wealth managers through their paces," she points out. "But, I believed it was my responsibility to provide customers with regular updates and to remind them of the long-term nature of financial planning. I wanted them to understand that I would remain their partner for the duration of their relationship with HSBC."
Apart from financial planning competence, other factors that help build customers' trust in a financial institution are the relationship manager's honesty, consistency, reliability and ability to tackle unexpected issues, she adds.
Ms Lee, who is currently serving HSBC Premier customers at the bank's Discovery Bay branch, has found that customers have become more knowledgeable and sophisticated over the past few years. As a result, their expectations on financial planners have increased — in terms of product and market analysis as well as customised solutions and professional services.
"A skilled financial planning professional makes use of analytic tools to determine customers' interests and needs, as well as their risk appetite and tolerance levels, and then devises suitable, personalised plans for them," she explains.
A "needs-based" approach is vital when drawing up appropriate portfolios for people from different walks of life, Ms Lee believes. When putting together a portfolio for a customer, she follows the six-step process that the bank's personal financial management unit provides as a guideline.
This entails first gaining a thorough understanding of customers' current situations, investment objectives and risk-tolerance levels. Then, she identifies their medium- and long-term financial needs.
"Once this is done, I integrate all the customer's requirements and specific financial needs to develop the appropriate strategies to draw up a plan," she explains. "I then prepare solutions with options, and present it for the customer's consideration."
Ms Lee stresses that customers are presented with both best- and worst-case scenarios, giving them a thorough understanding of the potential risks involved in a financial plan. "An important part of our role is to ensure that customers understand all the details in their portfolios," she remarks.
Once a proposed plan has been accepted, she monitors its implementation closely and makes sure that the customer remains informed of the portfolio's performance. Finally, she conducts regular reviews so she can refine plans in response to changing customer circumstances and market situations.
HSBC encourages its relationship managers to maintain regular and open communication with customers, and makes sure they understand and follow all the guideline procedures when establishing a portfolio. Different ways of keeping in touch with customers include providing market snapshots and alerts, and sending out birthday and season's greetings.
"In a customer-adviser relationship, every little gesture counts. Trust can only be built through continuous efforts to promote open communication and consistent service," she concludes.
- Advisers should show genuine concern for customers' welfare
- Customers must be regularly updated and involved
- Integrity and honesty essential qualities
- Building long-term customer relationships a priority