Money Moves

Qualified for the job

by Grace Chan

Insurance multinational goes all out to educate planners

Derek Yung (right)
senior vice president and general manager
AIA Hong Kong and Macau
C F Lee, director
HKU School of Professional and Continuing Education
Photo: Courtesy of AIA

In spite of the economic downturn, wealth management companies anticipate a growing demand for their services and focus on attracting the best talent, in line with future expansion plans. American International Assurance Company (Bermuda) Limited (AIA) is no exception.

AIA currently employs around 8,500 consultants, of which more than 4,000 are financial planners and more than 2,200 have achieved different professional designations, including CFP, CFMP, RFP and RFC. This makes AIA the company with the highest proportion of consultants with these qualifications in Hong Kong.

The company recently launched an associate financial planner (AFP) programme, geared at attracting candidates with a Form Five education and two to three years of work experience.

At an AFP Business Start-up Day last month, AIA detailed the training and subsidised programmes it has in place to pave prospective candidates' way towards a career in financial planning.

"Our target is to have more than 95 per cent of our insurance consultants become professional financial planners by 2012, and we'll start training 1,500 newly recruited AFPs this year," says Derek Yung, senior vice president and general manager, AIA Hong Kong and Macau.

Solid foundation

In addition to implementing three weeks of initial training that covers legal, compliance, product overviews, sales and servicing skills, AIA has also forged a partnership with HKU School of Professional and Continuing Education (HKU SPACE) to tailor an 18- to 24-month professional diploma and a series of executive certificate programmes for all new recruits.

These programmes include training on the basic concepts, key elements and procedures involved in financial planning, as well as an overview of the financial services industry and fundamental knowledge on taxation, investments and insurance.

"As a result of the financial crisis, clients will only trust financial planners with the right professional qualifications. Although Hong Kong is an international finance hub, the city currently has only 3,000 CFPs. This suggests profoundly sound career prospects for qualified financial planners," says C F Lee, director, HKU SPACE.

With a 50-year track record, HKU SPACE prioritises excellence in education. The programmes customised for AIA consultants will offer a flexible combination of classroom training and on-line learning to suit their busy work schedules, Professor Lee adds.

AIA will invest a total of HK$50 million to subsidise professional accreditations for its 1,500 new AFPs. This includes the Insurance Intermediaries Qualifying Examination (IIQE), Financial Advisers' International Qualification (FAIQ) and Licensing Examination (LE) for Securities and Futures Intermediaries Papers 1, 7 and 8.

In addition to the training subsidies, the company will offer aspiring AFPs a monthly allowance of between HK$8,000 and HK$10,000.

"We also plan to recruit 1,500 financial planners with university degrees this year. Suitable candidates with relevant experience will be offered monthly allowances of up to HK$20,000," adds Mr Yung.

"Aside from the chance to move up in the sales stream, all new recruits with university degrees will be offered a fast route to management," notes Jones Lam, the company's vice president and head of financial planning. He adds that such recruits will be in line to become unit managers within 18 to 24 months.

"Outstanding financial planners may even be fast-tracked to management positions in one year," says Mr Lam.

Life-long learning

AIA financial consultants are expected to be highly professional and all current employees are encouraged to commit to ongoing education and to obtain globally recognised professional qualifications.

"We have the industry's largest training centre, with more than 50 staff overseeing training and related services for all our consultants," Mr Lam notes.

In-house training ranges from product and market updates to medical seminars, and prospective financial planners should be prepared for ongoing, intensive training and life-long learning. This is a crucial element in the current economic climate.

"Most importantly, new recruits must believe in the concept of wealth management. This is the only way to ensure the clients' best interests," Mr Yung emphasises.

All AIA consultants are required to possess in-depth product knowledge and the professional skills to identify and analyse their clients' individual financial needs. They should also be able to tailor financial plans for clients and to perform ongoing portfolio reviews to ensure specific goals are being achieved.

"Service excellence has long been our corporate culture, and we prioritise high service standards both before and after sales," notes Mr Yung. "Successful AIA financial planners must be willing to accept challenges. Only through continuous learning can we keep up with industry developments."

Enhancing professionalism

  • Generous subsidies for studies toward professional qualifications
  • Fast-track management development for degree holders
  • Strong training team provides in-house programmes

Taken from Career Times 08 May 2009, p. A2
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