One of the key reasons for Vivian Wong's success as a Category A winner in the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB) Financial Planner Awards was knowing how to "outserve" the competition.
As a senior personal financial manager with Standard Chartered Bank (HK) Ltd, Ms Wong has learned in the course of her career that the best way to differentiate oneself is by offering superior customer service.
Now, as one of the finalists set to compete for the HKIB Financial Planner Grand Award, she will have the chance to show her skills once again. Explaining what it takes to excel as a financial planner, Ms Wong says that, first of all, it is important to be a responsible, sincere and trustworthy professional.
"During the initial approach to a new customer, I ask lots of questions about his or her background to understand the main financial aspirations," she says. Then, after carefully studying the various needs and goals, she tries to put herself in the client's shoes to figure out how to generate the best long-term returns.
The next step is to explain the pros and cons of different options and to provide the necessary information and relevant market news. With this, the client can gain a comprehensive understanding of each product and evaluate the level of risk before making investment decisions.
"But it doesn't stop there," Ms Wong says. "I contact my clients every month to update them with useful information." She also keeps track of her customers' portfolios and recommends necessary adjustments or new opportunities to consider.
The general rule she follows is never to resort to "hard sell" tactics but, instead, to adopt an ethical approach in looking for the products most suitable for clients.
"Standard Chartered's philosophy is always to put the customer's interest first and to act as a partner in finding the right products for them," Ms Wong explains. She adds that it is also vital to build mutual trust and strong relationships because satisfied customers will then refer their friends and relatives. Recognising the importance of quality service, the bank therefore measures each financial planner's performance not only in terms of sales figures, but also by the number of compliments or complaints received during the year.
To do the job well, Ms Wong notes the need to examine in detail all the information provided by a customer. Also, it always pays to remember that two people of the same age and with similar incomes may have different family circumstances and completely different financial goals. Therefore, each financial plan should be regarded as unique.
Another attribute essential for long-term career success is the desire to keep learning. "With so many changes taking place every day, we need as much knowledge as possible," says Ms Wong. "Many factors affect financial markets and investments, so we need a broad understanding of business, current affairs and even demographic trends, which have an impact on customer demand." As an example, she points out that there was surge in interest in investing in property in Eastern Europe in 2005. This made it necessary to learn about the property market there and the risks involved in investing in such projects.
With the help of courses and refresher sessions arranged by Standard Chartered, Ms Wong is able to keep up with the ongoing education requirements set by the SFC (Securities and Futures Commission). These stipulate the minimum number of points a financial planner must achieve every year for professional training and development. Points are gained by attending courses and seminars or taking exams. The requirement effectively guarantees that financial planners continue to learn about new products, changing markets, and matters relating to business ethics.
Organisations like the HKIB, SFC and Vocational Training Council help to organise many courses and seminars on topics such as insurance and the regulatory environment. In addition, the HKIB has jointly organised the first Outstanding Financial Planner Awards with Career Times to promote the industry and, at the same time, increase public awareness.
"Personally, I have found taking part in the Awards a very meaningful experience," Ms Wong says. "Also, they are great boost for the whole profession, reminding us that we are important to society and that our professionalism and efforts contribute so much to improving people's financial security."
- Superior customer service helps to differentiate the best financial planners
- Step by step process identifies a client's needs and financial goals
- Regular contact keeps customers aware of news and market changes
- Industry regulations call for ongoing professional education
- HKIB's Outstanding Financial Planner Awards have helped to promote public awareness of the industry