Over the past year, banking institutions and other finance companies have worked hard to enhance their wealth management services by tightening internal controls and improving standards. One indication of such ongoing commitment has been their support of the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards.
With an aim to raise the bar for the industry, the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (the HKIB) and Career Times joined hands in 2006 to launch the annual HKIB awards. This year, the competition focused on ethics, professionalism and integrity in the profession.
"The tough economic environment has not drawn practitioners' attention away from the competition. Instead, we've had more enrolments this year, and this proves that the industry recognises the significance of the event, "says Carrie Leung, chief executive officer, the HKIB.
In addition to banking employees, this year's awards also attracted a great number of independent financial advisers and insurance company representatives. "The level of enthusiasm shows that the industry is making a concerted effort to work towards the highest professional standards," Ms Leung notes.
For the first time this year, the adjudicating panel for the final round of the competition included representatives from two statutory regulatory bodies, the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA). "All our judges declared the event a success," Ms Leung stresses, adding that the finalists delivered work of exceptional quality, and particularly excelled in the presentation session.
Since all the institutions involved provided their representatives with dedicated training and support, not only the candidates but also their supervisors and colleagues benefited from the process, Ms Leung points out.
The HKIB awards therefore recognise team effort rather than just individual achievement, she adds. "No wealth management planner can function efficiently without the full scope of supportive financial services and intensive training offered by their companies," she emphasises.
The awards are certain to pave the way forward for winners and earn them acknowledgement by their clients and peers. Where banks and firms have emerged with a number of winning candidates among their ranks, this implies that the institutions are on the right track in their approach to professionalism and industry standards. All these factors help to gain and retain customers' trust, Ms Leung notes.
In spite of the recent financial turmoil, the wealth management sector is in good shape and looks set for a rebound. "Regardless of the ups and downs of financial cycles, there's always a demand for financial planning," says Ms Leung, stressing that the key message of the HKIB awards is the pursuit of excellence. "Wealth management practitioners should strive for continuous improvement, particularly when the economy is booming," she adds.
"Although there's still a long way to go towards a full recovery, it appears that the investment market is bouncing back," says Stanley Suen, general manager, Career Times Online Limited, co-organiser of the HKIB awards.
"When we announced this year's competition, there was panic in the market following the demise of Lehman Brothers. Many banks and financial institutions at the time started to streamline their workforces. Now many are launching initiatives to recruit new staff to prepare for the next market boom," Mr Suen observes.
The financial turmoil, caused by the overleveraging of banking products, has clearly underlined the importance of tighter controls and ethics.
"Considering that investment activity is a key driver of economic growth, the crisis has inspired a reallocation of resources," Mr Suen points out. "Once internal governance has been enhanced and investor confidence restored, the industry will emerge stronger and healthier."
He adds that stricter regulatory controls and smarter investors will inevitably create an increased demand for quality frontline staff. At the same time, this will compel banks and financial institutions to dedicate more resources to staff training.
With Shanghai increasingly challenging the city's status as major regional finance centre, Hong Kong needs top quality practitioners and stringent governance to set it apart, Mr Suen believes. "The HKIB competition has created a 'branding effect' for the award winners and their companies and this should attract talented new blood to the wealth management industry," he says.
In fact, Career Times has always supported the financial sector in recruiting outstanding staff. "We rank number one in terms of quantity and quality when it comes to finance related job advertisements. As the key media player involved with the HKIB awards, we'll continue to help employers in the industry to recruit top talent while encouraging enhanced standards," Mr Suen concludes.