The global financial crisis has made investors more conservative and driven a major re-evaluation of wealth management practices in Hong Kong and across the world. It is therefore crucial for practitioners to apply the highest standards of professional ethics in their efforts to polish the industry's image.
"It is of great importance for wealth management professionals to be trustworthy," says Ronald Lam, investment consultant, Citibank Global Consumer Group Hong Kong.
Citibank has set rigorous internal guidelines and an internal qualifications framework for its staff, but an employee's own work attitude and dedication are key when it comes to ethical conduct, Mr Lam believes. He says, "There's no point in aggressively pushing off-the-shelf products at clients. Integrity is paramount."
One of three group B finalists in this year's Hong Kong Institute of Bankers (HKIB) Outstanding Financial Management Planner Awards, Mr Lam says the high profile annual industry competition has highlighted the importance of long-term wealth management.
"The competition has a positive impact on the industry, giving financial planners a chance to learn from their peers and expand their knowledge," he says. While conceding that the recent financial turmoil created some doubts about the future of the industry, Mr Lam adds that participating in the competition helped him to review his own professional skills and to regain confidence in his chosen profession.
Preparing for the competition's presentation session helped Mr Lam brush up on his communication skills. "I also realised that I used to speak too fast — I would finish a 15-minute presentation in only seven minutes in my rehearsal sessions," he discloses.
He now makes sure that he paces himself in discussions with clients, making it easier for them to understand key concepts and to digest complicated information. "Apart from professional skills and knowledge, good communication is extremely important in this industry," he says. "If my clients understand their own financial needs, it helps me to draw up the most appropriate financial plans for them."
Mr Lam joined the industry during the 2003 SARS outbreak, a challenging time. The Lehman Brothers mini-bond saga last year again tested practitioners' abilities. "The business process has become more time-consuming, with clients becoming increasingly discerning and wanting to be more involved in investment decisions regarding their assets," he points out.
Building the confidence of clients is important to Mr Lam, and he makes a point of providing them with the latest market information and regularly updating their financial portfolios.
"Before meeting with clients, I prepare myself by gaining a good understanding of their needs and goals," he explains. "I provide them with comprehensive investment analysis and focus on tailoring appropriate personalised financial solutions."
Where a typical client meeting used to last about 30 minutes, it may now run for twice as long, with Mr Lam putting in increased effort to detail investment risks and potential returns. This has paid off, and he has found clients, and particularly those that have suffered financial losses, to be impressed by his consistent personalised service.
Citibank relies on teamwork by its investment specialists, financial consultants and research analysts to provide frontline professionals with the specialised knowledge necessary to cater for the wealth management needs of clients.
"Frontline staff must have access to investment overviews and market updates in order to provide clients with timely financial planning recommendations in response to market changes," Mr Lam remarks. "We are also supported by our unique Citigold Wealth Planner financial analytical tool that helps to assess clients' overall financial situation and craft a personalised financial strategy to assist them in achieving their financial goals."
Mr Lam's bonds with his colleagues across different departments have strengthened since he entered the HKIB competition. "In addition to valuable training and coaching, I've also received a lot of moral support from my colleagues and I now feel closer to them," he stresses.
He is confident about the long-term development of Hong Kong's wealth management industry and aims to continue learning. In addition to the on-going training provided by Citibank, he plans to embark on the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers' CFMPTM (Certified Financial Management PlannerTM) programme to enhance his professionalism.
"I also plan to enrol for a master's degree in finance next year. The industry has experienced huge challenges, but I remain positive. There are ample opportunities to be explored," he concludes.
- Maintain good client relations in spite of volatile business environment
- Focus on professional integrity to strengthen the industry image
- Ongoing learning key to professional growth