A job in the wealth management field requires more than knowledge in business and finance. Chief executive officer of Midland Wealth Management Sidney Sze finds that personality, relationship building skills and interests outside of work are paramount to success. "These are the things employers look for in all newcomers to the industry," Dr Sze notes.
Dr Sze began his career as a financial controller and moved up to become a chief financial officer in accounting. Over the years he has been a top executive for various international enterprises in Hong Kong. He entered the wealth management field 10 years ago, when he attained a certified financial planner qualification, and is happy he made the move as he enjoys the opportunities the sector offers to develop relationships with clients. "In the wealth management business results are not usually instant. So, building long-term relationships with customers is extremely important. This means we need to put the benefits of our customers first," he says.
"We need to have our eyes and ears open to what is happening in the world all the time"
As relationships are so influential in wealth management, Dr Sze believes that the initial connection with clients is extremely important. "To make a good impression during the first encounter depends on whether the service providers can get the right 'click' with the customers," he says. "In many cases, the subjects people talk about go beyond investment and insurance." Dr Sze therefore likes to read a wide variety of genres rather than simply industry related data, reports and publications. He also tries to keep up-to-date on the latest news, fashion and trends from gossip magazines, as he believes popular culture is an excellent place to start a conversation with most people.
"We need to have our eyes and ears open to what is happening in the world all the time because this is a people industry. When wealth management professionals can talk about a range of topics with their customers, they have more interfaces to correlate customers' needs to available products. That is why we have to be proficient in a broad area of knowledge and not limited to our own field," Dr Sze explains.
He has even found that his hobbies can be valuable talking points with clients and in fact they are often helpful in building his professional wisdom. For example, when on holiday Dr Sze enjoys sailing dinghies. This gives him the opportunity to meet interesting people and see different things. It has taught him interesting facts and skills such as how to read the weather. "When customers make an appointment for their financial planning, they don't want to hear from a robot who can only talk about numbers. They appreciate personality and sharing an interest with someone helps to build trust. Having a vast body of general knowledge to draw from, perhaps a method to predict an approaching storm, or techniques to look after a pet, can help to create some resonance with a customer," he says.
As well as an enriched knowledge base and soft skills, Dr Sze says talented individuals looking to get into wealth management should show their enthusiasm for the industry. He believes this is much more important than having an academic background in economics or business. In fact, at Midland many of the 200 consultants are graduates from non-business disciplines such as IT, history and criminology. This diverse team has made Midland one of the top three wealth management companies in Hong Kong only three years after it was established.
Dr Sze, who is also the founder and president of the Society of Registered Financial Planners, has great confidence in the future development of the sector and believes professionals need to keep upgrading their skills and qualifications to be successful. "Qualifications like CFP and CFA are extremely valuable as they indicate high quality and give a positive impression to the target customers," he says, adding that the Society of Registered Financial Planners is committed to fostering the professional standards of financial planners by offering a comprehensive range of education programmes to its members.
As the chairman of the Independent Financial Advisors Association Limited (IFAA), the first industry association specifically for corporations engaged in the provision of financial advisory services in Hong Kong, Dr Sze has also put much effort into boosting industrial standards at the corporate level. "As the investment market has grown to be more sophisticated, it is crucial to define best corporate practices to meet the increasing needs of customers," he says. "In the long run, the whole industry will benefit from an enhanced level of customer service."