Financial Planning / Wealth Management

HK$20-million IT platform enhances IFA's prominent position

by Ella Lee

Bernard Poon, associate director, Convoy Financial Services Ltd

Further recruitment and better returns are on the agenda for 2006

Financial planning is already acknowledged as the fastest growing sector of the banking and finance industry and is expected to maintain an enviable rate of expansion in 2006. While the major players are looking to enlarge their customer base, they will also be aiming to capitalise on rising markets and improve the overall performance for existing clients. As a result, consultants will have to be more knowledgeable than ever in order to provide up-to-date insights and astute professional recommendations for their customers.

Assessing the year ahead, Bernard Poon, associate director of Convoy, a leading independent financial advisory firm (IFA), says there are many untapped opportunities for financial planning in Hong Kong. He points out that, according to the CitiBank Consumer Wealth Review 2004, the typical Hong Kong family had around HK$500,000 in assets in 2003 - the highest average figure in the region (Asia ex Japan).

However, another research showed that 44 per cent of those total assets are held in cash or other types of deposit, and only 17 per cent of the local population uses any kind of financial planning services.

"I believe that's mainly because the industry has only been developed for around four to five years in Hong Kong, which is far less than countries like the US, Australia and Canada, where financial planning has been well established for 20 to 30 years," he says. "As a result, there is huge potential for development in Hong Kong."

Mr Poon believes the sector will grow steadily in Hong Kong as more investors realise the advantages of systematically managing their assets and making adjustments to account for changing circumstances, lifestyle or ambitions. He adds that a central part of Convoy's strategy this year will be to strengthen their asset management team. The company feels the time is right to lead the industry to the next level of development and this means achieving consistent high performance for clients.

Financial consultants must understand this and be ready to face the challenge. As a matter of course, they are required to have good product and professional knowledge plus strong marketing skills. "Now, they also have to perform market analysis in order to explain the movements of financial markets and offer even more sophisticated advice," Mr Poon says. For this, a reliable research unit is essential. The company has therefore committed more resources to its research department and invested around HK$20 million in more advanced IT infrastructure and technology platform. This ensures consultants have access to the range of information they need and can perform sophisticated portfolio analysis.

Quality standards

Convoy already engages more than 500 consultants and hiring will continue at a steady pace. However, future recruitment and training initiatives will put more emphasis than previously on upgrading overall quality standards. "Our training department offers all new recruits a five-day orientation course, covering financial planning skills, portfolio analysis and new business generation," explains Mr Poon. "In 2006, there will be a new series of training in corporate finance and accounting to enable consultants to cope with the growing number of corporate clients."

To meet the ongoing need for more financial planners, banks, insurance companies and IFAs are looking for three types of recruit: young graduates, consultants with relevant industry experience, and finance professionals in other sectors who are keen to try a new career. Prior knowledge of financial planning is an advantage but not essential since "it can be taught and learnt". Mr Poon says, "It's more important to have a wide network of personal contacts and good interpersonal skills. Candidates who have previously worked in marketing, or jobs which require a lot of contact with other people, usually adapt well to the financial planning industry.

Performance pays

Any consultant working for an IFA must concentrate first and foremost on building a client base. Income and career prospects are directly linked to performance and are not limited by seniority, professional qualifications or educational attainments. All of Convoy's senior management team worked their way up through the company. "They understand how to train and support consultants," says Mr Poon. "If people join us from banks, insurance companies or other IFAs, we closely examine their previous experience, other than their previous title, and the volume of business they actually generated."

Although fresh graduates may not have the same industry knowledge or personal network as more experienced applicants, Mr Poon nevertheless believes they are generally more open, adaptable and ready to learn. His own career to date proves the point. He joined Convoy just four years ago as a consultant and quickly progressed to become a senior consultant. Three further promotions took him to the level of associate director in his late twenties. The speed of promotion depends on individual aptitude and achievements and is not tied to any predetermined corporate timetable.

Mr Poon emphasises that having the right attitude to work is the key to success in the financial planning industry. "You have to be diligent, disciplined and determined," he says. "It's also a matter of being proactive, not just when searching for new clients, but in everything from solving problems, getting the most out of the training, and learning from the people around you."

Untapped potential

  • Excellent growth prospects in the financial planning industry in 2006
  • Consultants will be trained to offer more sophisticated advice
  • Three types of recruit are in the highest demand: young graduates, experienced consultants and finance professionals in other sectors

Taken from Career Times 13 January 2006
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