Anyone who works in a frontline position in the financial planning industry will readily admit there is no way they could manage without the dedicated support of the back-office team. A salesperson may be the face of the company as far as the customer is concerned, but the sales job would be impossible without the products, research data and market information made available by experts in other departments.
"To perform to the best of their ability, salespeople need assistance in assessing information and analysing customer data," explains Joseph Ho, general manager, distribution, MLC (Hong Kong) Limited. "Therefore, we have been determining which channels are the fastest and most suitable for answering queries and passing relevant updates to our frontline sales team."
The main focus has been on building and constantly upgrading a sophisticated IT system. "A wireless environment is used and most information can be accessed easily via the Internet," adds Mr Ho. "This enables a speed of response about product details and market changes which is guaranteed to impress clients and convey a very professional image."
Such developments are regarded as a sign of things to come. "Transparency and precision in dealing with customers' needs are becoming ever more important in the industry," notes Mr Ho. "Financial advisers cannot simply provide general information about financial products and solutions. The details of a wide range of investment choices are often needed, so being able to call on strong back-office support is essential."
In Mr Ho's opinion, the general level of professionalism within the sector will also be enhanced by the promotion of recognised qualifications and continuous learning programmes. The "maintenance costs" associated with systems and training will inevitably rise, but this is taken as a positive development. "The market for financial services is still evolving," he says. "One indication is that clients expect higher standards of knowledge and professional advice from us. If that means investing more in systems and high quality training courses, it is something we are prepared to do."