OVERALL WINNER THE CHANCE TO benchmark her professional skills against the best in the industry and a desire to hone her capabilities to improve her service delivery to clients have paid off for Rainbow Pan, senior vice-president, ipac financial planning Hong Kong. Ms Pan was the overall champion in the SCMP/IFPHK Financial Planner Awards 2006, having first beaten off challenges from peers for the Best of the Industry trophy for the Independent Financial Advisory (IFA) category and then the finalists from the banking and insurance sector. 'The competition met both my reasons for entering, and I would encourage others in the industry to enter,' Ms Pan said. 'It is a terrific way of learning to become a better financial planner and there are side benefits. The good publicity, for example, is helping to tell Hong Kong people about professional financial planners, that we can consult and give confidential and high-quality advice.' Ms Pan grew up in Guangzhou and graduated from Zhongshan University with a degree in economics. After graduating she worked as a business banking manager on the mainland for two years before moving to Australia in 1989 to study and 'to see a different kind of world'. While in Australia, she decided to return to banking and joined one of the country's largest banks, Westpac, as a financial planner. Two years later she moved to HSBC in Sydney where she worked for five years as a senior financial planner. Last year, when given the opportunity to return 'home', she jumped at the chance. Recruited by ipac in Australia she moved back to Asia in her present role based in Hong Kong. According to competition judge Kenny Wu, corporate vice-president - agency training and development, New York Life Insurance, Ms Pan was a fitting champion. 'She impressed me. She could handle all my questions and she seemed to be a very good all-round financial planner. For example, technically speaking, she answered all the questions regarding investment and tax planning, knowledge that she probably gained in Australia,' Mr Wu said. 'She could give recommendations about how to invest in and dispose of property, and demonstrated her skill set in her case study, which was based on an Australian client.' As well as client advising and helping junior planners, the trilingual Ms Pan may also be a familiar face and voice to many in Hong Kong with her guest speaking slots on RTHK radio and interviews appearing in Chinese newspapers and magazines. 'I enjoyed my time in Australia but coming back to work in Asia was one of the attractions of joining ipac,' Ms Pan said. 'The ipac style is really different. We help clients plan for their future. I focus on senior executives, professionals who are a good mix of local and expatriate entrepreneurs and salaried tax payers.' She is a strong advocate of the benefits of financial planning, especially for busy Hong Kong people with little time to organise their personal financial affairs. 'Financial planners can make a real difference to people's lives, especially in Hong Kong where they spend 60 to 80 hours a week at work,' she said. A recent ipac survey found that while many clients have a business plan in place at work, very few had mapped out their personal financial needs. According to the survey, the average spent each week by a typical Hong Kong professional on personal financial planning is as little as one hour. 'Our clients tell us their dreams, their goals, what they want to achieve, their current situation, earnings and budget. Our job is to make a difference to their lives, to structure their finances better so that they can have a financial road map to show them the best way to get to where they want to go,' Ms Pan said. Her advice to those wanting to become a good financial planner is threefold: first, you need to have a real interest in the profession to be good at it; second, a sense that what you are doing is making a difference to someone's life, whatever stage of life he or she is in; and third, an ongoing commitment to study in order to keep updated with regulations and the professional skills necessary to do the job successfully. At the very least, the professional Certified Financial Planner qualification is a must-have. Ms Pan gained hers while in Australia in 2002. 'To make a real difference, you need to put your heart into your work and do your very best to improve your clients' situations,' she said. 'When you do this, you do a good job for your client and when you see your client benefiting, then you get job satisfaction.' Having followed this advice since moving into the financial planning industry more than 10 years ago, Ms Pan said a successful financial planner should also derive satisfaction from the mental challenge of making money work for their client. 'If you are successful, you should be able to make a reasonable amount of money for your client and yourself, and when you do this, then you maintain your quality of life.'