As financial planning services and products continue to diversify, clients from all walks of life have different needs and it is essential for professionals in the field to determine what these are when designing the most effective financial plans for clients.
Confirming this, one of the six Outstanding Financial Planner Awards finalists, Galen Chan, financial planning manager, HSBC, says experience has shown him that one size does not fit all in financial planning.
Since graduating from university Mr Chan has worked in a variety of positions. He has been a management trainee for a fashion retailer as well as his own boss, setting up a tutorial school. In 2004, he began his career in financial planning with HSBC. "I am fascinated by the dynamics of the long-term client relationships in the financial industry and the challenges involved in developing them, so I decided to devote myself to the industry," he says.
Though he had not worked in finance before, he found that his business experiences, such as communicating with people and controlling his finances, were very useful in his new career. "Good communication skills and a better understanding of people are the keys for building up effective client relationships," he explains. His experiences have also shown him that there is no single approach that works for all clients.
Mr Chan says he can categorise his current clients into two major distinct groups. One has no investment experience and is passive in looking for financial planning assistance, while the other has a basic concept of investment and takes the initiative to seek professional advice.
To provide the best possible assistance, Mr Chan employs different strategies when dealing with these groups. For the former, he finds discussing current affairs with clients can stir up their interests in investments. Doing so can also divulge useful hints about their attitude towards investing in and preferences for specific products.
For the latter group, he spends more time reviewing documents that outline their investment history — since they are typically already the bank's clients — to understand their needs.
He adds that other factors, such as a client's appearance, occupation and age, are also useful insights for financial planners to note.
Mr Chan says a client's needs are the most indispensable part of a financial plan, even describing them as the "soul" of the plan. "Without this process of investigating and understanding their needs, the plans would be nonsense to clients," he stresses.
According to Mr Chan, people's awareness of financial planning is growing but there is still much room for improvement. "Although Hong Kong people know about financial planning, they may not have a thorough understanding of formulating a 'healthy' plan," he says.
Therefore, Mr Chan always makes every effort to educate his clients by explaining the role of financial planning and that although the impact of a financial plan is not immediate it can nevertheless have a profound influence in their later life. It is his firm belief that a good financial planner should always work in the clients' interest and consider risk management when structuring their financial plans.
Mr Chan's experience at HSBC has helped him build a solid foundation. He has previously taken part in an HSBC internal financial competition where he was also selected as a top-six finalist. Mr Chan says his participation in the HKIB Outstanding Financial Planner Awards has been an excellent opportunity to learn from other top players in the industry.