Being a financial planner can be a highly gratifying profession since it allows the planner to substantially help clients achieve their financial goals and find peace of mind. Doing so, the relationships often build into a long-lasting friendships. However, it is wrong to see financial planning as some sort of get-rich-quick occupation.
Stephen Gollop, chief executive officer of Bridgewater, entered financial planning by chance. He originally intended to make his career in the Royal Air Force, but after postings to different air bases throughout the UK he took a year off, which he spent in the life department with a local insurance company.
Surveying the opportunities in the field of financial planning, which was quite new to the UK, he saw it as a lifetime career. He started at base level performing nine months of administrative duties, which gave him an in-depth understanding of the principles of actuarial-related calculation. "In today's computer age people can do these calculations with the touch of the button but I had to do them manually," Mr Gollop says. "The reality is that there is not time for such detailed training now and it is a shame."
He then spent six years with the same company, working his way up through various consultant levels, specialising in insurance-related products such as pensions. "Unlike Hong Kong, tax is a major issue in the UK. People are constantly seeking ways to gain tax relief, and this opened another avenue," says Mr Gollop. He became an independent financial consultant and spent seven years with UK company Godwin.
Today as Bridgewater's CEO he guides the investment committee dealing with the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) side of investment relations and compliance, besides overseeing what his staff are doing. "There is no average day in the office and I work a lot at nights and weekends, making myself available to staff when they need help," says Mr Gollop.
"You won't know whether you like the job until you try it"
As the company moves into the China market, he foresees spending more time with staff than clients, specially since he is also involved in ongoing training for staff. He rates good ethics and hard work as two essentials for success in the field of financial planning. "It may not be too difficult to tap into the industry, and it is important for it to be profit-driven, but putting clients first is the key," he says. "Outsiders do not see the main benefit of the profession, which is to seek and find the best product for the client." To begin with a strong interest in financial planning is not necessary, since the nature of the job will allow the knowledge and interest to build over time."
Mr Gollop firmly believes that the financial planning industry will continue to evolve and expand. He points out that the profession allows new friendships to be established once the client's trust has been gained. In return, it provides commensurate financial rewards for people doing a good job. He sees the industry as being still in its early stages and somewhat product-orientated. "It is still a one-product-fits-all industry but is quickly moving towards being more client-orientated," he says. His concerns include whether the SFC will restrict the funds available to the industry to just authorised funds, and whether it will continue to allow investment products to be recommended to clients by unauthorised advisers. One improvement he hopes to see is the introduction of regulations in the near future to ensure that financial planners are properly certified. "The SFC understands what Bridgewater does in the industry and hopefully will draw on our advice in drafting the legislation," he adds. "The SFC has a hard job and we hope they will draw on experienced members of the industry to work with them in developing the necessary regulations whilst promoting business. After all, we ultimately depend on each other."
He recommends the industry as a viable option for university graduates since it offers newcomers the opportunity to help people while providing a high income at the same time. "The job of a financial planner allows you to make a difference in people's lives, doing the best for clients without hurting anyone else in the process." He advises newcomers to get an in-depth understanding of the company, and of what the job entails. "People should take a good look at the company they work for. What you can learn from a good consultant cannot be picked up from any books. But ultimately you won't know whether you like the job until you try it," he says.
Once having entered the industry, newcomers have no fixed career path since the interests of one may lie in advising clients whereas another may aspire to managing a team of advisers. "There are no specific breakdowns at Bridgewater since we operate a broad platform where advisers are mentored and in time encounter a wide variety of sectors from which to choose their area of interest," Mr Gollop says.