Financial Planning / Wealth Management

Hong Kong financial planners show high-ceilinged performance

Teresa Au, head of corporate responsibility & sustainability, Asia Pacific
Photo: Wallace Chan

From the HKIB Outstanding Financial Planner Awards, the annual signature event to heighten awareness of financial planning in Hong Kong, the panel of judges talks with Isabella Lee to share their views and opinions on what it takes to excel in the field

In the contest, contestants were encouraged to grasp every opportunity available to stand out from the crowd. Such gregarious behaviour is considered an important attribute for successful financiers in the extremely demanding financial market, as planners must be well equipped with soft skills to woo and win customers.

Professional image

"Physically, the basic requirements for a financial planner are simple: a tidy, hygienic and respectable look void of extreme or excessive accessories is essential," Teresa Au, head of corporate responsibility & sustainability, Asia Pacific, HSBC points out. "However, customers do see beyond the appearance of a professional planner."

Ms Au explains that it is the preparation of the financial planners which most impresses customers, rather than fashion. She says, "People are aware if you have conducted sufficient background research and data collection before the meeting. In the first two or three minutes, you have to link the conversation to the customer's personal needs. Otherwise clients will lose interest because time and money are precious."

On this note, Ms Au says that the participants in the contest demonstrated their professionalism by establishing enduring relationships with customers. She advises, "In financial planning, we should envision long-term goals instead of immediate results. Such goals can only be achieved by analysing the underlying needs of customers."

Big leap

Richard Ho, acting president professor (chair) of finance
City University of Hong Kong
Photo: Wallace Chan
After last year's huge success, the HKIB Outstanding Financial Planner Awards now enjoy centre stage in the financial industry. As Richard Ho, acting president and professor (chair) of finance, City University of Hong Kong (CityU) notes, an unexpected upsurge of professionalism is reflected in this year's superb performances.

"All the participants displayed a thorough knowledge of available investment tools such as securities, bonds and foreign currencies," Professor Ho adds. "At the same time, they presented more all-embracing uses of alternative financial instruments such as insurance products, providing both financial and personal protection for clients."

Professor Ho was delighted with the professional business attitude the participants adopted — a crucial component when devising comprehensive portfolios which incorporate suitable investment and protection options for individual clients. He remarks, "It is important for financial planners to be meticulous as their primary role is to assess client needs and help them transform their personal aspirations into concrete financial assets."

From an academic perspective, Professor Ho believes the candidates' views and innovative ideas offer a wealth of case study analyses ideal for current university students seeking to broaden their horizons and consider alternative financial planning tools. Indeed, more case study and role-play drills which surfaced during the contest, will be incorporated into relevant financial modules at CityU.

Trust and confidence

K C Kwok, government economist
Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
Photo: Wallace Chan
Government economist KC Kwok is aware of the sophisticated regulatory environment and diverse investment tools available to financial planners in Hong Kong. Mr Kwok however, was delighted to see the growing pool of professional financial planners in Hong Kong lifting the overall performance levels of the participants this year.

According to Mr Kwok, the contest finalists were able to craft financial plans based on customer needs, which were in sync with the trend for personalised service. Candidates came up with portfolio arrangements quoting useful statistics and data whilst conducting in-depth analyses on investment returns and risk disclosure. As a result, customers enjoyed greater flexibility and transparency in their investment selections.

On the whole, he found that the contest participants improved in many areas, for example, enhanced knowledge of the financial market and investment instruments, better communication and presentation skills and most importantly, a more professional and sincere attitude to task completion.

People-orientated approach

David Lam, deputy chief executive
Bank of China (Hong Kong) Ltd
Photo: Wallace Chan
Apart from technical capability, good customer care is essential. According to David Lam, deputy chief executive of the Bank of China (HK) Ltd, all the finalists exhibited this strength.

"I was impressed by the participants' overall performance. Not only did they reflect the essence of financial planning through their professionalism, confidence and genuine understanding of different customer investment needs, they also demonstrated the human side of financial planning to the panel," Mr Lam states. "It was evident that the contestants would always put customers first and try their best to meet customer expectations."

Mr Lam points out that communication skills are vital to help establish a long-term customer relationship, rather that product driven hard-sell techniques. He says, "A true personal touch is the key to cultivating a strong rapport. Customers can always sense that subtle element, regardless of the financial products or services they pay for."

From Mr Lam's observations, the finalists adopted a customer-orientated approach in the case study set in the contest. Whereas many of them were able to tailor-make financial plans helping customers at different stages in their lives offering all-round wealth protection and good returns on investments, some candidates adopted a fresh perspective serving customers as a family unit.

Highly developed setting

William Leung, general manager
personal financial services and wealth management
Hang Seng Bank
Photo: Wallace Chan
In the Asia Pacific region, the success of Hong Kong as an international financial centre has contributed to a rise in living standards for its inhabitants as well as a general upward trend for increased levels of financial intelligence.

"On the one hand, people in the city enjoy a wealthy lifestyle because of the thriving economy," William Leung, Hang Seng Bank Limited's general manager of personal financial services and wealth management comments. "On the other hand, those people must now strive to maintain their current living standards, which are in essence the ultimate driving force for today's investors. It has become essential to learn and understand financial products, old or new in the market, in order to obtain the necessary returns and protection ordinary people now expect as standard."

Greater longevity is another factor creating an increased awareness of financial planning. According to Mr Leung, personal protection such as retirement schemes evolve dynamically due to greater societal demand. He explains, "Local citizens are aware of the limitations of the social security system in Hong Kong, so they now actively assure themselves a guaranteed income after retirement."

Total solutions

Ricky Lin, director of wealth management
Citibank (Hong Kong) Limited
Photo: Wallace Chan
Ricky Lin, director of wealth management, Citibank (Hong Kong) Limited praised the finalists for demonstrating their expertise in carrying out financial planners' duties in a professional manner.

Mr Lin notes that professionals in financial planning and wealth management must take on a wide range of responsibilities, from a thorough understanding of client needs and data collection, to presentation of the most suitable financial advice and timely management of client portfolios. To fulfil such diverse roles requires extensive knowledge of wealth management, investment products, financial planning, risk analysis and management, retirement plan composition and debt management.

"The case study proposals were all well organised illustrating sound preparation and thought. Candidates incorporated various financial products according to diversified customer interests, for example, credit cards, debt management plans and insurance, which were rarely considered in the previous contest," Mr Lin says. "It indicated a higher level of competence in the financial planning industry compared to the previous year."

"The contest provides the platform for industry players to share insights and exchange good practices for the whole sector while outstanding financial planners receive recognition," Mr Lin adds "It is a great forum for both personal and industrial growth."

Professional development

Raymond So, associate professor
Department of Finance;
associate dean (undergraduate studies) Faculty of Business Administration
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Photo: Wallace Chan
According to Raymond So, associate dean for undergraduate studies in the Faculty of Business Administration and associate professor of the Department of Finance at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, in the contest, the finalists focused their attention on core client requirements providing holistic financial plans.

"Financial planners should not simply promote products offered by their companies. Instead, they need to connect with customers to find out their specific financial needs and goals," Dr So explains. "As such, communication skills, among other soft skills such as interpersonal skills, selling techniques and presentation skills are essential qualities for a successful financial planner."

Dr So points out that financial planners must be poised to meet differing requirements and as a result be able to discuss their rationale for alternative proposals. He notes, "It takes time and practice to accumulate solid experience."

He adds, however, that talented planners can keep abreast of the latest in skills and knowledge by undergoing professional training programmes, such as the HKIB's Certified Financial Management PlannerTM (CFMPTM) programme, designed to prepare professionals for the regulatory aspects, financial markets, insurance and taxation regimes in both Hong Kong and China.

Code of conduct

Arthur Yuen, executive director (banking supervision)
Hong Kong Monetary Authority
Photo: Wallace Chan
Arthur Yuen, executive director (banking supervision), Hong Kong Monetary Authority was left with a similar impression of the finalists feeling they had accomplished high ethical standards, particularly in understanding risk tolerance and constantly stressing the need to put customers' interests first.

"It is encouraging to see a great improvement in the quality of advice given by the participants, who, in a competitive atmosphere, conducted in-depth analyses on customer needs, producing holistic financial plans and explaining risk in great detail," Mr Yuen states. "It is a clear signal illustrating a better overall understanding of financial planning which now considers both ethical selling and product suitability."

Mr Yuen points out that a stringent regulatory environment facilitates healthy growth in the finance industry. He explains, "Regulations are designed to remind industry players to observe ethical practices that ensure long-term, trusting customer relationships. This confidence in turn leads to greater sustainability and development in the whole sector."

With more sophisticated products and services on offer, Mr Yuen suggests financial planners should update their knowledge of market trends and pay attention to any regulatory changes. He also recommends companies should arrange appropriate training to enhance employees' skills.

Taken from Career Times 07 December 2007
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