The hunt is on for the 'best of the best'
Judges for the SCMP/IFPHK Financial Planner Awards have narrowed down the field to three outstanding candidates, writes John Cremer
THREE INDUSTRY winners have emerged after the second round of the SCMP/IFPHK Financial Planner Awards 2006, but just one of them will be announced as the overall champion at the gala dinner to be held next month.
Moving into the final round for the 'best of the best' title are Anne Chu Chun-tin for banking, Rainbow Pan, who represents independent financial advisories (IFAs) and Johnny Chan Ka-hing for insurance.
The three were selected as the most outstanding candidates among the 30 second-round winners, having impressed the judges with their combination of financial knowledge, professionalism and presentation skills.
Each contestant had 30 minutes to give an oral presentation of the financial plan they had submitted in the competition's first round. They could use the available time as they preferred, but had to be ready to answer detailed follow-up questions.
To get a balanced assessment of the participants and their respective strengths, the judges were from within the industry and from academia. Their primary objective was to find professional financial planners, not just 'product salesmen'.
To do this, they acted as potential clients during the judging process, rather than independent observers.
Candidates were asked to present financial plans based on actual cases. It was felt that this would make the competition more realistic and practical.
In the first round, the aim of the written proposal was to define the client's goals and to analyse their financial situation and level of risk tolerance.
The key task for the second-round judges was to review the process and to determine whether the suggestions and investment recommendations were suitable and consistent.
'To test the reaction of the candidates and see how well they could explain key financial principles to a layman, I deliberately asked some 'simple' questions,' said contest judge Bruce Chong, the managing director of Patterson Financial Services.
'Sometimes, presentations are too fast or too complicated,' he added. 'Some financial planners just keep talking and don't take the time to observe the client or confirm that everything is clear.'
Taking his role further, Mr Chong used body language and different facial expressions to indicate confusion or uncertainty.
'I wanted to see if the candidates would pick up on this, check if I understood, and adjust their presentation accordingly,' he said.
Similarly, he noted if the contestants used eye contact and gestures to emphasise a point, build trust and display a friendly attitude.
Mr Chong also wanted to find candidates who genuinely put the client's interests first. An example of this might be advising someone to sell their car until they were on a firmer financial footing, rather than taking out a loan.
In general, he was impressed by the standard of graphics prepared by the winners.
'I like graphics and believe most investors do as well,' he said. 'They help people visualise complex financial models and make it easier to summarise or itemise things clearly.'
Another judge, Ricky Chung Chun-kit, programme manager for the Li Ka Shing Institute of Professional and Continuing Education at the Open University of Hong Kong, looked for people who could communicate with clarity and confidence.
He said soft skills were vital for financial planners and he was pleased that the competition format put these to the test.
Mr Chung also paid close attention to ensure that any recommendations were ethical, for the benefit of the client, and avoided possible conflicts of interest.
'As judges, we were looking for people who could comprehensively evaluate a client's financial status,' Mr Chung said.
'This included their cash flow, assets and solvency, plus planning for things such as insurance, tax and retirement.'
He added that all the second-round contenders in the banking category were knowledgeable, but the industry winner was also able to present a comprehensive plan very concisely.
'That was a sign of someone who is probably used to dealing with high net worth clients,' Mr Chung said.
Derek Ng Chung-yin, financial planner, wealth management, sales and distribution department of AMTD Financial Planning, was impressed by the overall level of professionalism.
He felt this showed that many of the best candidates worked for companies that provided sufficient resources in terms of training and technical support. However, he said what marked out the winners was the ability to build a good rapport and a level of trust with the client.
Also important was how well they identified financial needs and set out all the necessary information.
'It is essential that clients understand the recommendations and the rationale behind them,' Mr Ng said.
'Therefore, I was looking for clear explanations in answer to every query that was raised. The candidates had to show why these were the best options for the client.'
Mr Ng said the competition helped draw public attention to the high standards of professionalism in the financial planning sector and was an excellent way of enhancing the skills of practitioners.
SCMP/IFPHK FINANCIAL PLANNER AWARDS presentation DINNER
Date October 4, 2006
Venue Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
Contact Elaine Wong of IFPHK at 2982 7863 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your table