INDUSTRY TROPHY WINNER Banking FINANCIAL SERVICES firms realise the importance of having the right financial planning managers who can strike a balance between respecting the decisions of individual investors and advising them to look at alternatives they may not have considered. Albert Mak, winner of the industry trophy for the banking sector in the inaugural SCMP/IFPHK Financial Planner Awards, believes that financial planners in Hong Kong still have a long way to go, compared with their overseas counterparts, especially in North America and Australia. He added, however, that the local industry was moving forward by giving recognition where it was due - with competitions that acknowledged those financial planners who demonstrated acumen in their field, and the annual Financial World Expo 2005. Mr Mak joined HSBC as a financial services executive in 2000 on returning to Hong Kong from Vancouver, Canada, where he had held various sales and marketing positions. At present, he is working as division sales manager at HSBC, leading a team of 15 financial planning managers (FPM). 'My day consists of coaching FPMs, giving second opinions on their recommendations to customers, joining in conference calls with the FPMs, reviewing cases with FPMs and much more,' he said. The University of British Columbia graduate majored in statistics and qualified as a certified financial planner last year. He said he finds his profession immensely satisfying. 'I enjoy seeing my clients accept and implement the advised financial plans and seeing my customers' portfolios grow in a healthy way,' he said. 'Seeing the FPMs excel in their knowledge, expertise and improve their attitudes towards their jobs gives me a sense of accomplishment.' Mr Mak sees the 'helping process' as fundamental in a profession that involves protecting a client's portfolio or increasing a client's wealth. Strong communication skills, financial knowledge, a good market sense and a 'great heart' to make sound judgments were some of the attributes expected of any wealth management professional. Mr Mak admitted that the task of building customer trust could be difficult when it came to financial planning, despite working for Hong Kong's most trusted bank. 'We are talking about some very important financial decisions that would affect not only the customer but possibly his or her whole family,' he said. 'However, you can always win their trust if you use the needs-based approach to analyse customer requirements, and by giving fair recommendations.' Local regulations do not permit direct investment advice to customers, Mr Mak said. 'We can only provide information regarding different investment tools and options that fit the customer's investment risk tolerance and expectations.' Mr Mak said customer expectations were becoming increasingly high, and the only way forward was to improve oneself to tackle the challenges. 'The job has become more difficult lately. Clients expectations have increased since the introduction of the MPF. They want to know if you are different from any other adviser, be it from the bank or an insurance company.' To stay ahead, Mr Mak reads extensively about the financial industry and is constantly educating himself through in-house training programmes at the bank. 'The world is changing fast and new financial products are coming out like every minute. It's a must.'