2007 will mark another milestone in the increasingly important role played in Hong Kong's financial markets by independent financial advisors (IFAs).
With the Yuan now inching past the Hong Kong dollar in value, the new year will be fraught with new challenges. Convoy, the leading institution in the independent financial advisory industry, is expected to expand its current team from 800 to over 1000 professional consultants so as to further upgrade its services and standards. The company is noted for providing expert advice tailored to the needs of clients wanting to secure current and future assets and so maintain their individual lifestyles and ambitions.
Bernard Poon, deputy director of Convoy, believes that IFAs will continue to gain strength in Hong Kong as public confidence grows and more people transfer more of their assets to IFAs by switching from traditional banks and insurance companies. "This is definitely today's trend," says Mr Poon.
Compared with 2005, Convoy's business volume has increased by 75 per cent last year.
Mr Poon points out that while originally IFA services were in direct competition with banks and other traditional investment havens, the situation now is quite different, with collaboration taking place between the two. Today's strategy is to cooperate with each other, with IFAs promoting products from the banks.
Wider public awareness
Mr Poon further points out that the growing economy does not imply that people will pump more cash into their insurance premiums. "People are putting the extra money into investment rather than insurance for the simple purpose of making more money," he says. "The public are more educated on retirement and investment since the introduction of the Mandatory Provident Fund."
While Convoy maintains its leading position in terms of product range, it wants to strengthen its public image and position as a leading service provider. It therefore plans to put more money into advertising, thereby increasing public exposure and awareness.
Meanwhile, the company enjoys a good relationship with its staff, which it sustains by organising activities such as charity and sports events. Last year Convoy held its first sports day, involving the whole workforce in team-building activities. "We are using such activities to stimulate bonding and create staff loyalty," says Mr Poon.
Convoy's leading position in the industry has been attributed to the quality of its staff, and the support provided to them. To further this philosophy, the company expects to widen and improve its staff training programmes by providing a more complete training experience. In conjunction with the present one-week intensive initial training, staff will be given follow-up training to guide them on ways to better portfolio management or follow-up services. Traditional classroom training will be replaced by more interactive training. This will include practical financial-related exercises to be performed among staff, allowing greater communication among all. "Convoy is a people's business," says Mr Poon. "Our consultants are the most valuable assets. They are made up of people with various backgrounds including banking and insurance, which is one of our greatest strengths. And, of course, that is why we plan to add up to 300 more consultants to our workforce in 2007."
A nominee of the "Best employer 2007" award, Convoy's staff retention rate is about 60 per cent, which compares favourably with only 30 per cent for most insurance companies. The relatively high retention rate is mainly the result of the wide product range, strong back office support and positive corporate image. As Mr Poon points out, people with finance, accounting, economic or business academic background prefer to work in IFAs.
When looking for new recruits, the company values those with experience in financial planning but as Mr Poon stresses that, that is not absolutely essential since the company's comprehensive training programmes will cover and reinforce knowledge and skills. "Candidates who have previously worked in marketing, or held positions which required a lot of contact with people, usually adapt well in the financial planning industry," he says.
Fresh graduates may not possess the same industry knowledge or people networks, but are also welcomed to join in as long as they are open-minded, adaptable, and eager to learn. "The right attitude is the key to success in this industry. One also has to be diligent, disciplined and determined," Mr Poon concludes.
Convoy has already tapped into the China market through its subsidiary Convoy Beijing, which provides a wide spread of wealth management services for corporations in mainland China. These include expert advice on setting up wealth management centre, financial planning development and business development strategies.