The financial services industry is continuing to evolve at a significant rate. Previously, there were clear distinctions between the major activities of banks, insurance companies, fund managers and stockbrokers. Now, though, the lines have been crossed and, in an effort to offer comprehensive financial planning services, leading institutions have greatly expanded their scope of activities.
"A professional financial planner must consider a client's goals, stage in life, personal state of affairs and risk tolerance," explains Chiu Man Ming, deputy general manager of the retail banking department at the Bank of China (Hong Kong) Ltd. "The prevailing trend is to take a holistic approach and offer customers total solutions. For this, it is necessary to have a full range of options to discuss and, if appropriate, to offer."
Mr Chiu adds that it also helps a financial adviser to have the backing of an organisation with an established reputation and a trusted brand. "Our parent company has a strong network with a substantial amount of mainland-based clients," he says. "This is a significant advantage when compared to other institutions."
Bank of China (Hong Kong) has over 200 branches locally and provides a wide range of financial products and services for both retail and corporate customers. Noting that independent financial advisers (IFAs) and even some property agencies have been heavily promoting financial planning services, Mr Chiu believes that banks still have a competitive advantage. "IFAs and property agencies may only specialise in certain professional areas," he says.
He points out that there may be some consolidation in the years ahead, since the costs for training and remunerating the best candidates quickly add up. Even so, the bank currently has plans to increase its own workforce and periodically launch large-scale recruitment campaigns. Ideally, applicants should have a strong educational background, some relevant work experience, knowledge of non-financial issues, and an interest in developing a long-term career in the sector.
"Good financial planning begins with examining the client's overall expectations and forming a good relationship through open communication," says Mr Chiu. Therefore, the bank provides recruits with a lot of general training in interpersonal and presentations skills to help them build strong relationships and develop genuine rapport. Traditionally, the focus was more on sales skills and product knowledge only.
"What you need when providing individual financial planning is a more general understanding of what inspires people, and how the various pieces of the bigger picture are interrelated," he adds.
Looking ahead, Mr Chiu believes the financial planning industry will see exponential growth, helped by China's booming economy. One reason for this is the increase in overseas investment by mainland China funds encouraged by the qualified domestic institutional investors (QDII) scheme, which is expected to create extra capital inflows for Hong Kong. He suggests, though, that financial advisers should pay extra attention to risk management issues and professionalism when dealing with specific mainland investments.
"We will continue to develop our wealth management services," Mr Chiu concludes. "As our services grow, we will put more resources and manpower into helping our staff to attain professional designations and qualifications, and making sure they can provide a professional and qualified financial planning services to our valued customers."
- Backing of an organisation with an established reputation and a trusted brand is a career advantage
- Applicants should possess strong educational background, relevant work experience, knowledge of non-financial issues, and an interest in developing a long-term career
- Prevailing trends to take a holistic approach and offer customers total solutions
- Professional financial planners must consider a client's goals, stage in life, personal state of affairs and risk tolerance