In view of greater public awareness of financial planning services and the need to invest for long-term prosperity, the demand for professionals in the sector continues to grow.
For example, Standard Chartered Bank (HK) Ltd already has several hundred personal financial managers and relationship managers, but is expanding the team to support business growth.
According to Rose Wong, who is senior manager for branch banking in Hong Kong Island East, different categories of staff are assigned to serve different market segments. Basically, personal financial managers deal with general customers, while relationship managers focus on high net worth individuals who have priority banking accounts.
In either case, potential recruits should preferably have a degree plus an understanding of financial markets. "Since we are in a servicing industry, they should have a passion to provide good service," says Ms Wong. She adds that previous work experience in finance or a service role is a definite advantage.
Like other international banks, Standard Chartered is proud of its reputation and expects all staff to demonstrate a very high standard of professionalism. This is based on the five core values of being courageous, responsive, international, creative and trustworthy. To ensure that personal financial managers are fully competent, the bank offers comprehensive training. Every new employee attends a training course, which helps them understand the operation and requirements in terms of service, product and sales. On-the-job training follows with attachments to branches. This has a major part to play in helping staff meet and manage customer demands.
Frontline experience is invaluable because every role involves serving the customer in some way
There is continuous training for all employees, which includes updates about new products and services, operational procedures and compliance. Staff are also encouraged to take external courses such as the certified financial management planner (CFMP™) programme overseen by the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers.
Ms Wong notes that financial managers can access the latest market news at any time through their desktops. Also, branch managers brief their teams every day, and investment specialists offer in-depth market analysis on a weekly basis.
The position of personal financial manager is in the front line, but it gives a first-hand understanding of what it takes to succeed in any role. "You can choose whether to move into management or take the sales route and move on to become a relationship manager," Ms Wong says. "Opportunities also open up in other areas of the bank."
Depending on individual strengths and aspirations, it is even possible for personal financial managers to widen their exposure in departments such as marketing. "Frontline experience is invaluable because every role involves serving the customer in some way," Ms Wong adds.
The rate of career progress depends on individual performance and aptitude. However, there is nothing to stop a personal financial manager becoming a relationship manager within one to two years and then moving up to the position of branch manager after three more years.
As the financial planning industry matures, customers are getting more knowledgeable than ever and making full use of easy access to the wide variety of market information. As a result, they are more demanding when dealing with the providers of financial services and expect a wider selection of products, as well as more personalised attention.
Ms Wong believes that the best way to deal with increasing customer expectations and tougher competition is by investing more in training and development. This ensures that financial planning professionals will have the qualifications, technical knowledge, skills and attitude to satisfy their clients' ongoing investment needs.
Practitioners must therefore be dedicated to enhancing their own levels of professionalism and keeping close track of each and every market trend.