In recent years, retail banking in Hong Kong has been undergoing a major transformation. With the help of technology which allows customers to do more from home, phone banking and e-banking services have been steadily replacing the need for counter services. At the same time, however, there has been a phenomenal growth in demand for an expanded range of wealth management products and quality investment advice. To reflect this shift in emphasis, a systematic redesign of bank branches is taking place across the territory to accommodate the needs of financial planning professionals and their new clients.
Not surprisingly, in parallel with this, there has been a surge in openings for finance executives keen to make the most of opportunities in the sector. Career prospects are generally regarded as excellent and the rewards can be substantial. First and foremost, however, it should be recognised that long-term success can only be achieved by understanding the complexity of the business and putting the needs of customers ahead of any other consideration.
"In short, the job of a personal financial planning manager (PFPM) is to analyse each client's financial situation and, after assessing their aims and the risk level they can bear, to offer the most effective plan," says Lau Shun-chuen, assistant general manager and head of retail services and sales at Hang Seng Bank. "Since every client will have different investment objectives, we must fully understand these before recommending the most suitable products."
Hang Seng Bank has an outreach team of PFPMs serving customers who may not have time to visit the bank's branches on a regular basis. The team will take the initiative in contacting and building relationships with such clients in the most effective way. This may mean speaking to them outside office hours, or arranging to meet at any location which the client finds most convenient.
"Each PFPM will work with an assigned portfolio of clients," explains Mr Lau, "but they will also handle other general duties such as mortgage or credit card services." For customers who prefer to visit a branch, enquiries will be answered and advice offered by relationship managers and customer services officers."
Though "high net worth" individuals are the prime target for financial planners, the bank's success has been built on dealing with customers from all walks of life. "People have different income levels at different stages of their lives", notes Franky Wong, an award-winning PFPM at Hang Seng Bank. "Part of our job is to help clients identify how their lives may change and to plan accordingly. A married couple, for example, should be thinking about saving for their children's education, while an unmarried homeowner might have more use for a mortgage protection plan."
As both customers and the financial products available become increasingly sophisticated, PFPMs must maintain a consistently high level of professionalism. "Customers rightly expect us to have an exceptional knowledge of financial products," says Mr Wong. For this reason, the bank requires all relevant staff to obtain the Certified Financial PlannerCM (CFPCM) certification and provides funds to assist their studies. Regular training courses and seminars are organised to update qualified PFPMs on the latest market trends and the products offered by other institutions.
While competition with independent financial advisers remains tough, Mr Lau still firmly believes a well-established bank provides better opportunities and support for financial planning managers. "Besides our traditional services, we can offer a broader range of insurance and fund products," he says. "Furthermore, we give our PFPMs more career options. They can always switch to banking as a branch manager and keep moving up."
For those interested in the profession, the main prerequisite at Hang Seng Bank is a university degree. Finance, accounting or business administration degrees are preferred, but graduates in other disciplines, or those with practical work experience, receive full consideration. Trainees must pass the necessary insurance and Hong Kong Securities Institute (HKSI) licensing exams. Previous banking experience allows someone to start as an assistant PFPM with a salary of between HK$12,000 and HK$18,000 before bonuses. Depending on performance, an entry-level PFPM can quickly move up to managerial level, overseeing 18 staff and enjoying a generous remuneration package.
"It is not easy to recruit the number of good professionals we need," Mr Lau admits. "We set high standards in terms of qualifications, personality and attitude. However, we realise this is important for maintaining the success of our business and the quality of our service."
Mr Wong, in turn, recommends that those interested in breaking into the field should bear in mind two qualities: diligence and enthusiasm. "You must also be devoted to your work and completely sincere towards your clients," he advises. For him, nothing beats the satisfaction of clients calling up for help with a new financial need, or when they refer their friends for advice. "It is a difficult job, but I love it," he says.
Plan to get rich
- The field of wealth management shows unlimited potential
- Principle of giving individual attention to every customer
- Bank offers financial planning managers broader career
- Continuous demand for new recruits of the right calibre
- Training includes sitting for respected industry qualifications