Though many financial institutions are keen to promote online banking and the benefits of managing personal portfolios via the Internet, the ongoing demand for qualified wealth management specialists proves that what the average individual most appreciates is personalised financial information and advice.
In fact, according to Eric Poon, vice president of wealth management for ING Life Insurance, any financial solution which has not been properly customised, is nothing more than a hard-sell of commercial products and may be unsuited to a client's long-term goals. With 20 years' experience in the industry, Mr Poon believes that, to help a customer build a sound financial strategy, the first step is to have a strong personal relationship. And as leader of a professional team of wealth managers, which provides specialised financial management advice and services, he can now put his theory to the test every working day.
ING Life's wealth management team was established in 2004 with a clear objective. Unlike certain banks which target high income individuals, the aim was to offer personalised planning and consultancy services in the Hong Kong market, without any specific capital requirement. In addition, emphasis was placed on thinking more broadly about the needs of a family unit rather than just those of an individual.
Our job is to fully understand a client's source of income, family background and aspirations
"I also believe that the old school of thought which said selling quickly means selling more no longer applies today," Mr Poon notes. "As good wealth management consultants, our job is to fully understand a client's source of income, family background and aspirations, so as to determine how they should allocate funds for wealth protection, accumulation and preservation." With this information it is possible to advise on the best opportunities for capital growth, guard against inflation and minimise the risks caused by unforeseen circumstances.
"We are not so much a sales team as a trustworthy third party with the professional insight and objectivity to advise on future wealth allocation and protection," Mr Poon stresses. In his opinion, the people who suffered most during the recent economic crisis were those with a shortsighted approach to investing, and his years in the business have taught him that a long-term and comprehensive outlook is usually best.
Prior to obtaining the professional designation of Certified Financial PlannerCM in 2003, Mr Poon worked in a variety of roles in banking, property and overseas investment consultancy, which allowed him to gain experience in both sales and general financial practices. He came to see the importance for individuals of having a clearly defined strategy and specific goals and these insights subsequently influenced his decision to move into the field of wealth management. He is currently responsible for recruiting, training and leading an expanding team.
Nowadays, Mr Poon finds real job satisfaction in serving and learning from his clients. He believes that technology and automation can never replace the personal touch and that the interaction between clients and consultants helps to create mutual understanding for the benefit of both parties. "It is the trust my clients put in me that gives me and the profession a sense of value," he notes.
While wealth management is becoming increasingly popular among Hong Kong's middle-income class and should achieve impressive future growth, Mr Poon says the current challenge is to keep educating the general public to see the overall benefits. This can be done with the help of new recruits to the sector who have good interpersonal and client servicing skills. University graduates with a few years' work experience and the self-confidence to make calls and suggest new ideas are seen as the ideal candidates.
As part to their programme for new joiners, ING Life has adopted a training and mentoring system which is regarded as one of the best in the industry. An important part of it is Field Observation and Demonstration which pairs a senior member of staff with a new graduate of the basic training class for a few working days. There are two major purposes: to provide guidance so the new graduate can become more effective and to build confidence in dealing with clients.
"This method also helps to emphasise the importance of the human touch in wealth management," adds Mr Poon. "That is what builds a bond with our clients."
Mainland China is a market with almost unlimited potential, according to TC Yeung, head of wealth management for ING Life Insurance.
In light of the growing number of middle-income earners in China, ING Life, like other companies in the financial services sector, are looking to extend their reach and attract new mainland-based clients.
"The China market is becoming more mature and sophisticated. We anticipate there will be a surge in demand for advice from professional wealth managers," says Mr Yeung.