One of the first things Carmen Mak learned when she became a financial planner was the importance of gaining the trust of customers as the initial step to building long-term relationships.
Now, eight years into a successful career, Ms Mak is already a relationship manager at CITIC Ka Wah Bank and still believes that is the crucial step to having good two-way communication with clients and dealing effectively with all their wealth management needs.
"Instead of just asking questions, I also tell clients something about myself and let them know how long I've been in the banking industry and how committed I am to the profession,"
Ms Mak says. She believes this helps to give customers greater confidence in her experience and ability. Usually, she starts a conversation with some small talk or a few comments on recent events to establish a degree of openness and, hopefully, hit on one or two common interests.
These days, Ms Mak is mainly responsible for the bank's CITICfirst customers. They have no less than HK$1 million in savings and investments and, as a result, can enjoy a wide range of private banking and premium banking services. It means, though, that extensive preparation is needed before any meeting with a customer in order to anticipate possible requirements.
"For example, from the bank's records, we will note their age, gender and general consumption pattern, which is reflected in credit card usage and any auto-pay arrangements, perhaps for children's school fees," Ms Mak explains. "This can also help us to understand more about their interests and possible needs but, of course, we need to be observant and use our analytical skills."
Before the initial meeting, the financial planner will also study the client's investment portfolio, especially the more recent choices. It is also possible to use an analytical tool supplied by Standard & Poor's, the independent and globally renowned fund research company, to estimate a client's likely risk tolerance levels and suggest a model portfolio for asset allocation.
Ms Mak and her colleagues also have an extensive database to make systematic comparisons of the performance of different funds. The in-house investment and insurance teams provide any technical support required, as well as the very latest market information. With this wealth management platform, there is no difficulty in continuously tracking individual portfolios and calculating both realised and unrealised gains and losses.
When meeting a customer for the first time, Ms Mak makes point of asking how much time they can spare and then finding out about their key financial objectives. "The client may just want to have a brief chat at first to know more about us," she explains. "Therefore, it is necessary to know exactly what is expected at the outset."
In her opinion, a common mistake is for financial planners to talk too much. They think this is a way of showing their knowledge of various types of investment market and making a favourable impression. What they should do is to listen more to understand what customers want or need — that is the sign of the real professional.
"If you have done your research well, you should know which things to ask about and, in that way, can also demonstrate a caring and careful attitude," she adds.
Ms Mak happens to be one of the six finalists in the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers Outstanding Financial Planner Awards 2006 and, so far, has found the competition both challenging and useful.
"It has been a valuable opportunity for me to compete with other industry professionals, who are the best of the best, and to know my own standard," she says. "While preparing for the different rounds of the competition, I have been able to review some key principles and further improve my own day-to-day practices."
Understandably, she is delighted to have progressed to this stage of the competition and now realises she is in with a great chance of winning the grand award. If anything, she thinks her success is the result of having an outgoing and friendly personality, but being very professional when it comes to discussing business.
Whatever the outcome of the HKIB awards, she hopes to focus in future on working with more high net-worth clients who need private banking services. "It can be hard just to make an appointment with these top-tier clients, but I believe we can play a role in this market segment by offering a unique range of personalised services."
- Clients — able to manage finances effectively and meet different financial goals at different stages of life
- Financial planners — can enhance their professional success while making friends and gaining more business from client referrals
- Banks — can strengthen their image and gain business in a fast-growing area