Friendly approach pays dividends
Befriending a colleague or client is more often than not a bonus, but for Ricky Lee Lap-ki, associate director at Convoy Financial Services, making friends through work seems to be part and parcel of the course.
Take a page out of Lee's schedule and it soon becomes apparent just how many of his clients have become friends. They play football together and chat over a bottle of red wine. He has recruited some into his company to work alongside him as financial planners. He even visits their newborn babies in hospitals.
'I tend to take a warm approach towards clients. I feel that if I am going to be of help to someone, then it makes more sense to get to know them well so that I can provide better tailored advice that can accurately meet their needs,' said the 28-year old.
This affable and outgoing personality played a role in earning Lee the My Favourite Financial Planner award last year - a spin-off prize from the annual SCMP/IFPHK Financial Planner Awards that will be contested again in this year's competition.
The award, held for the first time last year, allowed members of the public to cast their vote online over the course of one month for their favourite financial planner after viewing a two-minute video presentation made by each participant on an assigned topic. The nine finalists were the top three from each industry sector - banking, insurance and independent financial advisory - of the main competition.
'Though Hong Kong has two to three financial planning awards each year, I thought this competition was especially pertinent because you are judged not by the industry but by end users, so their feedback on our performance is that much more meaningful,' Lee explained.
His presentation addressed client concerns surrounding an environment where inflation is high and the interest rate is low.
With almost no track record in giving short presentations, Lee rehearsed the delivery of his presentation over and over, seeking advice from senior colleagues and clients alike. 'My assigned topic happened to be something many clients were concerned with at the time, so they were able to give me their opinions and input,' he said.
The most challenging aspect of the task, Lee said, was not the content of the presentation but rather its delivery: how he came across and whether he could be clearly understood.
'I made sure I wasn't too technical and stuck to giving more generic and concise advice so that my message could be properly understood by everyone, regardless of whether they were aged 10 or 60,' he said, adding this was something potential contestants should bear in mind.
This straightforward approach has worked well for him during his five-year financial planning career.
'It really is the difference between hearing and listening,' he said, adding that soft skills such as communication, listening and interpersonal attributes are the most crucial, as hard skills can generally be taught.
'Take me as an example. I knew nothing about investments when I started, and it was in many ways easier that way because I had no preconceived ideas, biases or assumptions that would influence the advice I gave to clients,' he said.
'In their eagerness to demonstrate their financial planning knowledge, some planners tend to get swept up in too much talking and impart too much information all at the same time, omitting the most important aspect of their role: that of listening.'
Lee's move into the financial planning stratosphere occurred more by accident than design. While he was waiting for his permanent contract with a property management firm in Shanghai to come through, he decided to learn the ropes of investment.
'I had six weeks to kill before my contract for Shanghai was ironed out, so I wanted to put my time to good use and thought what better way to do that than joining a financial planning company to learn about investment for myself,' he said.
'I soon discovered this was something I really liked doing. I enjoyed dealing with lots of different people and got satisfaction from the fact that I was helping them, so I ended up abandoning the job offer in Shanghai and began working as a full-time financial planner.'
The financial planning industry has undergone many changes since then. While its concept is no longer new, clients are becoming ever more savvy and particular about their choice of money manager. No longer content to just go with a friend's referral, potential customers are scrutinising planners more closely and assessing whether the planner's track record and style match what they want.
At the end of last year, Lee became a certified financial planner - a qualification he believes will gain increasing momentum as the sector gains greater professionalism and recognition in the long term.
The My Favourite Financial Planner award has served Lee well. Since winning, he has acquired new customers who specifically requested his services. Beyond that, Lee believes it is the confidence that accompanies the award that has made the difference.
'The award makes you stand out from the crowd and strengthens the trust and confidence of existing clients, demonstrating to them my long-term commitment to the industry,' he said.
This will most likely be the last year he participates in such award contests. He plans to spend more time mentoring colleagues entering such competitions.
Vote for your favourite financial planner
Please check out the video presentations conducted by each candidate on http://classifiedpost.com/FPA2009/vote and cast your vote before October 18.
Edward Yiu Shut-hung, banking category
Lui Hoi-kam, banking category
Lam Ching-wang, independent financial advisory category
Joe Tso Pok-ho, independent financial advisory category
Pamela Bradley, independent financial advisory category
Jackson Lai Lap-fai, insurance category
Sharon Ching Wing-shan, insurance category
Bonnie Wong Po-lan, insurance category