With the public's growing interest in wealth management, every major financial company has reconfigured itself in the last few years in order to offer comprehensive financial planning services, and AIA (American International Assurance) is no exception.
In fact, besides insurance, the company now offers a full range of investment products, including over 80 specialised funds, to meet diverse client requirements. And according to senior district director Raymond Wong, around 80 per cent of the company's Hong Kong business is now derived from financial planning.
This transformation has meant changes to the overall staff profile. As a result, AIA's 8,000-strong agency sales force now contains 3,000 qualified professionals and the pattern of revenue generation has significantly shifted. The most productive agents are those who understand the opportunities presented by the full scope of financial planning options and no longer simply sell insurance.
It is necessary to show persistence and have a passion to excel
The company's key objective in terms of personal development is to train up all-round financial planning professionals. They are expected to have in-depth knowledge of the products on offer, as well as the skills to identify and discuss individual investment needs. Besides that, such employees must be able to customise financial plans and perform ongoing portfolio reviews to ensure the specified goals are achieved.
New recruits receive three weeks' initial training, which covers legal compliance, documentation, product overviews, and essential sales and servicing skills. After this, it is necessary to study for the required professional licences, meaning that up to 80 per cent of the first three months with the company may be spent on training of one kind or another.
Personal coaching is also provided. District managers help team members work towards their personal goals and willingly share their experience to develop broader expertise and collective success. To attract young talent, AIA has introduced an internship programme for university students. They receive classroom training and on-the-job experience, giving them a head start if they are accepted for full-time positions after graduation. Nowadays, a degree is a standard requirement for applicants, and it is a definite advantage if this is in finance or economics.
All existing agents must commit themselves to a continuous development programme in order to keep up with changes in the industry. Some people opt to go even further by completing an MBA or qualifying as a chartered accountant.
Dr Wong notes that the company also makes full use of external courses for financial planners, which are run by the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB). These include the CFMP™ (certified financial management planner) programme, the first in Hong Kong to incorporate modules on banking law and services. Since AIA now sees itself in direct competition with banks for financial planning business, it is important for practitioners to understand this type of information.
A dedicated department of 50 staff oversees training and related services for in-house staff. They will even arrange product briefings by fund houses, medical seminars by doctors and psychologists to help agents support their clients, as well as coffee gatherings as a chance to network.
In assessing what it takes to succeed in the business, Dr Wong says the right attitude is crucial. He also emphasises that financial planners must be confident, willing to learn, ready to grow with the industry, and natural leaders.
"They will get to lead teams, but must first be able to organise their own work and the life-long financial plans of their customers," he says. If dealing with corporate clients, agents may also need a certain amount of political skill to balance the interests of different parties.
Overall, Dr Wong advises newcomers to be totally committed to their careers. "As the career path for financial planners becomes more challenging, it is necessary to show persistence and have a passion to excel on behalf of the client and your team," he says.