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Financial Planning / Wealth Management

Pillar industry shows vital signs

by Charles Mak

Chris Ma
chief agency officer
American International Assurance Company (Bermuda) Limited
Photo: Nolly Leung

There are broader issues that affect Hong Kong's banking and finance industry as a whole but talent shortages remain a tall challenge

As the scope and scale of Hong Kong's financial planning industry continue to inflate with the prospect of subsequently entering into a more mature stage, a wider segment of the general public now grapples with issues facing their financial aspirations, generating an updraft of demand for professional services.

"The growth potential of the industry is encouragingly healthy as the Hong Kong economy returns to its growth path. For instance, there has been an increasing volume of positive media coverage on financial planning matters. This helps to draw the attention of the general public, prompting people to reassess their financial planning needs," observes Chris Ma, chief agency officer, American International Assurance Company (Bermuda) Limited. "Interest in the field is rising steadily and this is being translated into demand for professional advice and services."

Head count

Mounting market optimism has driven active response among employers in the financial planning business in recent months, with the majority of them contemplating recruitment while increasing their expectations of prospective recruits who in turn look to their future employers for professional development.

This "expectations exchange" is positive, Mr Ma believes. "We have seen an increasing number of university graduates and their higher-degree counterparts set their foot in the fast-paced industry," he underscores, pointing out that employers by and large now follow a more stringent recruitment process in order to handpick the best and brightest candidates. "This is to ensure that the people we hire possess the potential to develop a high level of professional competence in order to address and serve their customers' needs and exceed their expectations."

The atmosphere is thick with all sorts of new possibilities. Mr Ma cautions however that competition will remain keen in the growth industry. "Customers are becoming more knowledgeable and demanding. Companies that aspire to greater success in the field need to adopt a more customer-centric and innovative approach to products and services," he advises. "As for practitioners in the field, they must look to establish themselves and enhance their professional knowledge, skills and service in an ongoing manner."

Aside from its international background, AIA Hong Kong's competitive advantages rest also on its large professional agency force which is supported by a strong team of in-house training professionals and the company's state-of-the-art training facilities. Mr Ma reveals, "In terms of business development, a comprehensive portfolio of market-driven products and services, as well as our sophisticated business platform, enable our agency to look after the full spectrum of their customers' needs. This essentially puts us in the forefront of the market."

In his opinions, the overall market sentiment in 2010 has greatly improved although some volatility and uncertainty linger in the air and are carving out a new context for financial planning, leaving much room for alternative investment options. "For instance, this is an opportune time to start dollar cost averaging investment for the long haul," he says. "This offers financial planning professionals an exceptional opportunity to better position themselves to help customers plan their financial future."

Stepping up measures

A key player in Hong Kong's banking and finance industry, AIA Hong Kong continues to invest resources in nurturing future finance professionals for the Hong Kong economy. "Investment in human resources ensures that our customers receive the best professional advice and services and in turn helps to secure their financial futures," Mr Ma stresses.

Besides recruitment for experienced professionals, AIA Hong Kong this year launched two focused talent development programmes°XInternship@AIA and Apprenticeship@AIA, to attract university graduates who look to tap into the exiting financial planning industry. While the internship programme targets the 2011 batch of university graduates, the apprenticeship immerses this year's in a two-month stint that may lead to permanent employment with the company.

"We're on the lookout for fast and keen learners who aspire to a career in this predominantly people oriented industry," Mr Ma remarks. "We expect our prospective recruits to be good communicators who are devoted not only to servicing Hong Kong people's future planning needs but also to driving development for the wider industry."

Promoting best practice is key in this. One good way of doing so is by actively engaging in high-profile industry events such as the Hong Kong Institute of Banker's Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards.

As Hong Kong's banking and finance industry gets back into its stride, this year's competition takes on a significant meaning. A member of the judging panel for this year's competition, Mr Ma says: "The event will certainly help planners to re-focus their attention on helping their customers fulfilling their financial planning needs."

Moving forward

  • Market optimism triggers employers' appetite to hire
  • Recruitment process more stringent
  • Focused talent development programmes attract budding graduates
  • Annual competition promotes best practice

Taken from Career Times 24 July 2010


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