Financial Planning / Wealth Management

Professionalism on a constant rise

Kalok Chan
head, department of finance
school of business and management
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Photos: Wallace Chan

Over the four years since the launch of the HKIB Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards, members of the adjudication panel have seen a continuous improvement in the quality of contestants and the financial planning sector as a whole. While the best way for wealth managers to enhance their credibility is through ongoing training and by obtaining professional qualifications, it is essential for practitioners to put theoretical knowledge to practical use.

Heightened credibility

One prerequisite for a good financial planner is the ability to nurture trusting relationships with clients, according to Kalok Chan, head, department of finance, school of business and management, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Customers are increasingly scrutinising practitioners' adherence to the industry code of conduct, Dr Chan notes. "They are more concerned with wealth protection and tend to have higher expectations of planners' professional integrity," he adds. "Financial planners in turn must seek to gain a thorough understanding of the customer's financial situation, needs, aspirations and risk appetite."

Dr Chan believes it is crucial for industry practitioners to raise their standards in order for Hong Kong to retain its status as an international finance hub. He believes the HKIB competition can effectively showcase the industry's competitive strength, as well as the professional commitment of contestants. "This is a signature event - a platform for practitioners in the field to share experience and insights to improve overall professionalism," he remarks.

Dr Chan has been pleased to see that contestants' performances have been improving year by year. "This proves that the industry is really committed to upholding the highest standards in the best interest of the public," he says.

Professional integrity

Amy Choi
director of sales & distribution
Citibank Global Consumer Group
Integrity and trustworthiness are two of the most important qualities for a financial planning professional, and this has become even more apparent in the aftermath of the financial crisis, says Amy Choi, director of sales & distribution, Citibank Global Consumer Group.

Hong Kong's investment sector has undergone some fundamental changes since the onset of the global economic downturn, Ms Choi notes. As the stock market tumbled, so did customer confidence in the financial framework and even customer relationships.

"Financial planners should focus on initiating contact with clients in a consistent and ongoing manner and help them to refocus on their investment objectives so that they can reap the benefits of market rebound," she adds. To achieve this, a proactive attitude and effective communication skills are vital.

Ms Choi has been impressed with the communication and analytical skills of this year's contestants. In particular, they showed an understanding of their clients' needs and concerns following the economic crisis. "They also revealed how their proposed plans would benefit customers in difficult market conditions," she remarks. The sector now calls for increased professional standards among frontline staff. The competition sets industry benchmarks for financial planning practitioners and provides a good learning opportunity for them to share best practices."

Yardstick of professionalism

Andy Hon
head of retail distribution, personal financial services HSBC Hong Kong
The HKIB Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards provides a framework for assessing the professionalism of Hong Kong's wealth management practitioners. Andy Hon, head of retail distribution, personal financial services, HSBC Hong Kong, notes that contestants were able to display a superior level of integrity and flair, as well as a zeal for customer service.

Due to the diverse backgrounds and investment appetites of customers, a common challenge for participants was to explain clearly to them complex financial management concepts and product features. "Contestants demonstrated remarkable interpersonal communication skills, showing that they understood the importance of customer communication and took into consideration customer concerns, particularly over risk exposure and economic uncertainties," Mr Hon says.

"Preparing for the competition took them a great deal of time and energy," he adds. "They received a lot of support from their colleagues and individual banking institutions. This helped them to enhance their skills and knowledge further, so they could reach the highest levels of professionalism."

Mr Hon emphasises that by participating in the competition, contestants and their employers are pushing their own professional standards to new heights while helping to increase public awareness of the need for a thoughtful and holistic approach to financial planning.

Impressive instances

Alexa Lam
deputy chief executive officer & executive director, Securities and Futures Commission
First time adjudicator for the HKIB Awards, Alexa Lam, deputy chief executive officer & executive director, Securities and Futures Commission, says that the finalists succeeded in projecting a superior level of professionalism and competence throughout the competition.

"Integrity, trust and professionalism are among the attributes that investors look for in their advisers. These were also the characteristics on which we tested the finalists," Mrs Lam notes.

A professional in the field is expected to possess extensive market insights and product knowledge. In Mrs Lam's opinions, a well-versed financial management planner also needs the capacity for building trust with customers by seeing things from a customer's perspective. "They must keep the best interest of the customers, understand their needs and concerns, and exercise sound judgement," she says.

The wealth management sector in Hong Kong has great potential, especially now that China is experiencing a phenomenal growth stage, Mrs Lam points out. "The HKIB has been working towards enhancing the image and public awareness of the profession. I'm confident that the Hong Kong industry can help further advance the development across the border," she remarks. "Talent is all it takes."

One step forward

William Leung
executive director and head of personal banking
Hang Seng Bank Limited
The quality that had set the best contestants apart from the rest was their ability to manage the "soft side" of a customer relationship, says William Leung, executive director and head of personal banking, Hang Seng Bank Limited. "It is as important as product knowledge, risk management and financial acumen," he notes.

Since this year's finalists did an outstanding job in displaying their technical expertise, meticulous risk management approach and respect for the industry's code of conduct, it was no easy task to select a winner, he adds.

Mr Leung expected contestants to build an educational aspect into the financial planning process by helping customers to set out their objectives.

"They made it clear that they understood the potential for exposing their clients to financial risk when drawing up a financial plan and show how they handle this issue and communicate the message effectively," he says.

By producing work that conforms to industry requirements and international standards, wealth managers are in a position to enhance investor confidence in Hong Kong's financial institutions, stresses Mr Leung. He adds, "This year's contestants have showed the qualities that characterise the ideal customer relationship management approach. It has been a valuable experience and another step towards perfecting the system."

Tailored customer approach

Wendy Mui
head of personal banking and product management
Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited
Financial management services have become indispensable in Hong Kong, given the city's ageing population and ever-increasing medical expenses, notes Wendy Mui, head of personal banking and product management, Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited.

"The wide availability of investment tools makes it crucial for financial planners to take into consideration customers' needs and goals," Ms Mui says. "They must understand the nature of specific products and provide customers with tailor-made services."

One of the panel judges for this year's competition, Ms Mui valued contestants' professional traits such as the ability to understand the uniqueness of every customer, as well as their analytical skills.

"Financial planning is an ongoing process," she points out, adding that financial planners must review customers' investment objectives and portfolios regularly. "A financial portfolio should always comprise a range of investments tools that are in line with specific clients' financial status, risk tolerance and long-term financial goals," she remarks.

Ms Mui believes that the HKIB competition will continue to set industry standards and promote best practice to enhance the level of professionalism in the industry and public awareness. "The competition gives wealth management practitioners a valuable opportunity to learn from their peers and inspirations for their future careers," she says.

Raising the industry profile

Raymond So
associate professor department of finance, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Since the inception of the HKIB Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards, Raymond So, associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's department of finance, has been on the adjudicating panel.

"The competition allows financial planners to compete with their peers and to gain new insights for polishing their professional skills," he says.

Participants this year have focused not only on the technical side of financial planning, but have also exhibited their ability to base advice on clients' needs and lifestyle goals, Dr So notes. Contestants have generally chosen the most appropriate solutions and products to suit the clients' long-term objectives. "Some of the written plans and presentations were so comprehensive that they didn't just cover clients' financial requirements, but also their family protection needs," he says.

Dr So believes that the competition is a ideal platform to help raise the profile of the industry, and that there is room for improvement when it comes to candidates' communication and presentation skills. "Financial planners work from a base of professional knowledge, but interpersonal skills are essential for building trusting client-adviser relationships," he says, adding that it is by increasing their focus on soft skills that practitioners will be able to push standards to the next level.

Ongoing growth

Arthur Yuen
executive director (banking supervision)
Hong Kong Monetary Authority
"The HKIB competition encourages practitioners to keep up with industry developments and to constantly enhance service quality," says Arthur Yuen, executive director (banking supervision), Hong Kong Monetary Authority.

"Financial planners are now more aware of investor protection issues and the importance of assessing clients' appetite for risk before drawing up their portfolios," notes Mr Yuen. "A client-adviser relationship should go further than just a sales contract. Customers should be confident that the adviser would consider their needs and protection first and foremost."

Pointing out that wealth managers are in a position of trust, since they have a fiduciary duty to work in the best interests of their clients, Mr Yuen says he was impressed with the outstanding technical and soft skills demonstrated in the final round of the competition.

He praises the finalists for revealing exceptional professional knowledge. In particular, the finalists gave due consideration to customers' needs and concerns early on in their submitted financial plans.

"I was pleased to see that they analysed clients' objectives from different perspectives before putting together portfolios designed to best serve clients' long-term goals," Mr Yuen says. "It's encouraging to see that they could come up with realistic and achievable recommendations."

Taken from Career Times 20 November 2009, p. A5
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