wIndustry-wide recognition helps promote financial planning excellence and raise industry standards. Entrants in the HKIB Outstanding Financial Planner Awards undergo a rigorous selection process, with their presentation skills, professional knowledge and insight coming under strict scrutiny.
Carmen Mak, senior relationship manager, CITICfirst, CITIC Ka Wah Bank, was last year's grand award winner in the senior division of The Hong Kong Institute of Bankers' first annual HKIB Outstanding Financial Planner Awards. "It was a tough yet rewarding experience. The entire competition process took two months and I learned a lot, while enjoying strong support from the company," Ms Mak says.
According to Phoebe Wong, senior vice president and head of wealth management and strategic planning, CITIC Ka Wah Bank, Ms Mak's passion and enthusiasm equipped her to face the challenges of the competition while continuing to carry out her daily duties. "Believing in what you do is fundamental to driving success in any field," Ms Wong adds.
As a financial planner, Ms Mak currently manages the wealth of more than 200 premium retail customers. Her role is to dedicate her full attention to all her clients and to find the best solutions for their particular needs while demonstrating CITICfirst's customer-oriented approach.
Launched in March 2006, CITICfirst is the bank's premium wealth management service for customers with assets worth more than HK$1 million. There are presently 7,000 Hong Kong-based CITICfirst clients, of which 80 per cent came from the bank's existing customer base and the rest were newly recruited through word of mouth and marketing efforts.
Ms Wong says, "Financial planning creates a win-win situation for our customers, staff and the company. Not only does it help our customers achieve their individual financial goals, but it also enables our relationship managers to grow with them and foster long-term friendships. Of course, it also brings more business opportunities for the bank."
With positive results so far, CITICfirst's potential for growth presents an excellent development opportunity for the bank. "We are encouraged by the fact that our existing customers' investments are growing by more than 10 per cent a year, while we are increasingly attracting new clients. To support the business, we plan to increase our number of relationship managers from 24 to 40 this year. We will also to open four new CITICfirst centres across Hong Kong, in addition to the seven we already have," Ms Wong notes.
Since CITICfirst's launch, a new technology system has been introduced to maximise the bank's wealth management capability and to enhance customer experience. The scheme has three founding pillars: sourcing timely opportunities, providing niche investment products and offering outstanding performance monitoring services. The bank believes that these qualities differentiate it from competitors in the market.
CITICfirst offers tailor-made products meeting individual customers' specific requirements and clients have widely embraced its unique product innovation strategy. For example, if a client wants to create an equity-linked note on a particular stock at a designated value, the wealth manager will work with investment partners to create a tailor-made new product for the client, often within one workday.
This type of private placement service provides the flexibility traditionally only enjoyed by private banking customers, and CITICfirst has found that it has been particularly well received by progressive investors seeking to manage their wealth in dynamic and innovative ways.
Ms Mak remarks that the HKIB award recognition has led to a proliferating client portfolio and more referrals. "Most top managers and executives focus on the big picture, calling for the customisation of structured products. This requires a totally different way of working, but although it's a tough new challenge involving a steep learning curve, it has given me a golden opportunity to grow," she says.
CITICfirst's customers generally fall into two groups: entrepreneurs who are relatively aggressive when it comes to investment plans and customers looking for long-term planning and lower-risk strategies. A good financial planner is expected to be attentive, responsive and professional, as well as to achieve high returns for customers. The job is challenging, and financial planners have to continuously educate themselves about new products and options, as well as undergoing training to enhance their skills.
Reflecting on her career so far, Ms Mak believes that she has more than reaped the benefits of her hard work. In addition to the satisfaction of having achieved good results for her clients, she has also gained the friendships of customers and recognition for her efforts. Her HKIB Outstanding Financial Planner Award has served to further convince her that she chose the right career.
Speaking from a senior management perspective, Ms Wong points out that the award provides a healthy platform to promote industry excellence and creates awareness among customers about wealth management, and that Ms Mak's achievement is an inspiration for her colleagues and a good professional example.