Special Report: SCMP/IFPHK Financial Planner Awards

Finalists apply skills to real-life scenarios

Practitioners' pitches reveal quality of sector's service.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 September, 2012, 2:55am

To make a real impact, any competition testing professional skills must reflect real-life scenarios. It has to give contestants the chance to show their knowledge and, fairly but firmly, put them on the spot.

That has always been a central premise of the SCMP/IFPHK Financial Planner Awards, and is a key reason why practitioners from across the sector - and their employers - have come to regard taking part, never mind winning, as a significant career milestone.

As Dennis Lau, chief executive of the Institute of Financial Planners of Hong Kong (IFPHK), is quick to confirm, the awards have never just been about recognising merit. There has always been a clear, two-fold underlying purpose: to improve all-round ability and standards of professionalism within the industry; and to reinforce the message about the importance of proper financial planning among members of the investing public.

This year's three finalists ably demonstrate the first point.

Leo Leung, branch manager and senior planning consultant for Manulife, represents the insurance category, while Stephanie Tang, senior wealth planning manager for Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong), carries the flag for the banking sector. And Will Chan, chief wealth management adviser for Convoy Financial Services, goes into battle on behalf of Hong Kong's independent financial advisories. They have had roughly two weeks to analyse a complex case, prepare detailed recommendations, and then present them to an expert panel of judges. Final-round results will be announced next month.

The finalists' case involved a "typical" local man. Recently married and with a child on the way, he and his wife face a new "life situation" and a host of financial decisions.

They need sound advice on everything from insurance cover to education planning; whether the wife should work full-time; and the feasibility of previous goals for personal investment, and expanding the husband's small business.

Lau has no hesitation in commending the three contestants on the strength of their presentations and their coolness under fire.

"The candidates all came across as well-prepared and confident," Lau says. "It was a complicated case, requiring them to prioritise goals and offer a range of solutions, as well as to think on their feet. Looking back at the earlier rounds, we can see that the overall standards are getting higher."

He believes that, by setting tough rules and emphasising the right professional attitude and skills, the awards can claim credit for helping to set new benchmarks.

"Having to abide by stringent guidelines and follow the recommended six steps of financial planning, every participant over the years has in effect had extra training," Lau says. "And the continuous commitment of companies shows they support the culture and principles we promote."

One such principle is to create greater public awareness, a big part of which is the "My Favourite Financial Planner" contest.

It allows members of the public to view online a three-minute clip made by the top three contestants in each practitioner category, and vote for their favourite. Last year saw an excellent response with more than 6,000 votes and, with

voting this year open until September28, a new record

is expected.

"In their video, each contestant gives some solid suggestions about hot topics like retirement planning, insurance planning and the property market," Lau says.

"Our industry is all about serving the public, so getting the public's views is important."