Money Moves

Plan ahead for stability

by Ada Ng

Life insurer creates thousands of positions to facilitate future growth

Jones Lam, vice president and head of financial planning
American International Assurance Company (Bermuda) Limited
Photo: Wallace Chan

In spite of the current economic turmoil, there is still a universal demand for sophisticated, personalised financial management services.

One leading insurance company this month kicks off an ambitious recruitment campaign to employ at least 3,000 additional agents by the end of the year.

The campaign is part of the company's strategic move to facilitate business growth in the personal financial planning and wealth management sectors, says Jones Lam, vice president and head of financial planning, American International Assurance Company (Bermuda) Limited (AIA).

AIA presently employs 9,000 agents, of which 4,200 are registered financial planners (RFPs). "Our target is for 95 per cent of our workforce to attain the RFP qualification by 2010," Mr Lam notes.

The first recruitment event on AIA's agenda is a career open day which aims at attracting new financial planning talent. Mr Lam believes the career day will attract interest from a large pool of talent from various backgrounds and industries.

"Recruitment and business activities in the insurance and financial planning industry are particularly buoyant during difficult times. This was true during the 2003 SARS outbreak and the 1997 Asian financial turmoil," he says.

AIA also plans another recruitment exercise targeting fresh university graduates in a few months' time.

Training and development

Qualifications wise, a university degree is an asset. However, the company will also consider candidates without degrees, but who have at least two years' work experience, Mr Lam notes.

AIA is prepared to invest substantial resources in building its team. "We plan to spend about HK$50 million on on-the-job training and subsidised programmes for candidates to acquire industry accreditations such as the certified financial planner (CFP) qualification and financial adviser's international qualification (FAIQ)," he says.

The company has also created an associate financial planner position for non-degree holders with the necessary potential and commitment. "We are confident that our comprehensive training programme will get associate planners up to speed within three years."

AIA encourages agents to achieve their goals through a "needs-based" selling model rather than the old-fashioned product-centred approach.

By focusing on customers' long-term needs and goals, agents can offer them a comprehensive portfolio of one-stop financial advisory services, including everything from risk management and investment products to retirement and savings plans, Mr Lam points out.

Looking to the future

Even considering the global economic downturn, the financial planning sector continues to grow and provide career opportunities, Mr Lam says.

"There is an increasing demand for sophisticated planning professionals with extensive product knowledge. Since long-term financial planning requires an ongoing look at customers' changing needs at different stages of their lives, economic circumstances do not have a significant impact on this process," he notes.

The role of newly recruited AIA financial planners need not be limited to business development, Mr Lam states. There will also be opportunities for fast-track management development.

Qualified consultants will be able to work their way up in two to three years, becoming unit managers, branch managers or district directors who recruit and train their own financial planning teams. "This is a bit like running your own business and developing your own staff," Mr Lam explains.

Once financial planners have established themselves and built up some long-term client relationships, they can expect a stable income. "A fully qualified financial planner can earn as much as HK$50 million in three years' time," Mr Lam stresses.

AIA will assist candidates with the right potential and qualities to break into the field. However, basic "must-have" qualities for successful financial planners include being competitive, insistent and self-motivated. Since relationship building is key to understanding clients' needs, the company is looking for candidates who are people-oriented and trustworthy.

"Candidates can gain industry and product knowledge through training, but those with the necessary drive and commitment ultimately become the company's top performers," Mr Lam concludes.

Promising future

  • Insurer recruiting 3,000 new agents by the end of the year
  • Company to spend HK$50 million on training and other programmes
  • Associate financial planner positions created for non-degree holders
  • Ample opportunities for fast-track management development

Taken from Career Times 13 February 2009, p. B2
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