Money Moves

Insurer seeks to mend image

By Ada Ng

This is a fortnightly series of articles focusing on the banking and financial industries

Edmond Lau, senior vice president, agency development, MassMutual Asia Ltd
Photo: Edve Leung

While the introduction of the MPF has generally made Hongkongers more aware of the benefits of insurance, it has yet to change the traditional stereotype of the insurance agent as someone who puts sales and possible commission before the needs of the client. In order to shed this image, insurance companies are now updating their practices and training agents to regard themselves as entrepreneurs who have a mission and the ability to contribute to the community.

Unlike other jobs that are based on fixed remuneration packages, the insurance industry allows qualified individuals to work as if they are running their own business. "It is like a form of free enterprise," says Edmond Lau, MassMutual Asia Ltd agency development senior vice president. "You have a partnership agreement with your company to run an operation where your income is closely related to how hard you work."

Determined to take control of his own destiny, Mr Lau went into the local insurance business in the early 1980s when the rate of penetration was as low as 30 percent. Although the industry has grown rapidly and about 80 percent of Hong Kong people are now covered by an insurance policy, he believes the market is still far from saturated.

He now looks after the company's training and team development, a key part of which is building up agents' confidence and formulating ways to develop their careers. This has been one of the most rewarding experiences in his own career of over 20 years, but Mr Lau still feels that many people overlook the insurance agents' mission to the community. "We are giving our word as professionals to assure a good financial future for our clients and to help their overall well-being," he says.

"The most challenging part of my work is to identify potential agents from among applicants from different social backgrounds and with work experience in a range of industries," Mr Lau notes. When the right people have been identified, the next step is to make them understand their basic mission of enhancing the quality of life for individual clients and allowing financial planning to contribute to the overall economy.

He stresses that agents should not measure rewards and job satisfaction in strictly monetary terms, but also in the way they can be of value to the community. Recalling a case in which careful investments helped a client's children pursue a university education after their parents had died, Mr Lau says, "Every time I think of that, I have a strong sense of doing something good and realise how rewarding this industry can be."

While anyone with the confidence and desire to run their own enterprise can be a good agent, recognising the mission to help others is the key to a long-term career. "Product knowledge and client servicing skills can be taught," says Mr Lau, "but agents must also see there is a broader responsibility involved."

This point of view also encourages contact with people from every section of society. "No other profession enables you to meet so many people and build such a broad social network," Mr Lau explains. For this reason, he recommends the field for graduates who will receive proper training, learn to build a business enterprise and have a real sense of achievement in improving clients' lives.

Taken from Career Times 18 February 2005, p. 2
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