Money Moves

Opportunities abound for IFAs

by Mahlon Campbell

Stephen Gollop, CEO, Bridgewater Limited
Photo: Johnny Kwok

Within Hong Kong's wealth management sector, it is becoming generally accepted that the potential for independent financial advisers (IFAs) is huge. It is easy to draw that conclusion when you learn that around five per cent of the professional financial advisers in Hong Kong are classified as IFAs — the others work mainly for banks or insurance companies. However, in more mature markets, such as Australia and the US, the figure is closer to 95 per cent.

"Hong Kong is still in its embryonic stage, whether you look at levels of life cover or the number of advisers providing a full financial service," says Stephen Gollop, CEO of Bridgewater Limited. "More needs to be done to educate people about making sound investments and having a more holistic approach to financial planning."

This situation, though, represents a tremendous opportunity for growth and has opened the floodgates in terms of new jobs. According to Mr Gollop, the basic requirements for someone looking to break into the field include an ethical approach, reasonably intelligent and a desire to work hard.

"You have got to realise there is a responsibility, because if you do this as a profession then you are really moulding peoples' future, which is serious stuff," he emphasises.

When advising clients, the main objective should be to help them achieve long-term financial security by introducing products which offer the best prospects for stable growth.

"We have to understand our customers' investment needs and recommend what is most suitable for them," Mr Gollop adds. "We are helping them to have peace of mind."

The range of products now available means the process should not be rushed. Therefore, a good IFA will identify the best options and point out the pros and cons of specific investment products.

Mr Gollop notes that it is much easier for IFAs to succeed if they have the support of a well-established company with a recognised reputation and brand name.

"The emphasis for us is very much on quality," he says. "We have to be extremely ethical and that is a focus for all staff from day one."

Bridgewater expects staff to discuss in detail the individual needs of each client and not simply to push certain products. Support documents are provided to give extra information and help the client understand the full range of options.

"In our reports, we describe why we are doing things and how you could achieve your financial goals," Mr Gollop explains. "There is a total costing structure, our expectation of the client and the client's expectations of us."

Taken from Career Times 12 January 2007, p. A13
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