Winners score on excellence in their presentation of true and useful information and advice to investors in one marathon of a competition THE SCMP/IFPHK Financial Planner Awards, now in their second year, continue to provide a much-needed benchmark for measuring the growth and development of Hong Kong's financial planning industry. The awards, organised by the Institute of Financial Planners of Hong Kong in conjunction with the South China Morning Post and the only scheme of its kind in Asia, recognises financial planning excellence in independent financial advisory (IFA), insurance and banking sectors. An industry trophy is awarded to the winner in each sector. The three winners then go into a final round to determine who collects the overall financial planner of the year award. 'We like to think that these awards cover the industry better than any other awards,' said Angeline Chin, chief executive, Institute of Financial Planners of Hong Kong (IFPHK). 'Also, they are unique in that we ask candidates to submit real cases, not a plan created just to win the competition. Their first round entry is a real financial plan they have worked on for a client,' she said. The other factor that set the SCMP/IFPHK Financial Planner Awards scheme apart was the stringency of the assessment process, Ms Chin said. The competition is a marathon more than a sprint. This year it began in April and the final round of judging was done last month. 'Some of the participants said it took time, resources and preparation to participate in the awards,' Ms Chin said. 'They had to put in a lot of hard work over the three rounds. But we needed a lot of time to carry out each round, because the judging was so stringent. 'It was certainly encouraging this year to find that a lot of the participating companies had conducted internal screening to select the best candidate to enter the competition. They were very supportive in the selection of who would represent them in the awards,' she said. Candidates were judged in three rounds in the competition. The first was the submission, in written form, of the candidates' financial plan for their clients. The second round consisted of an oral presentation of the plan, and the final round comprised the submission of a written financial plan and an oral presentation of the plan based on a hypothetical case. The final round was the most difficult and crucial, Ms Chin said. The candidates had to present their hypothetical case and answer questions from 10 judges, some of whom acted as hard-to-please clients. 'This round was based on a hypothetical case we gave the candidates. It was very close to what happens in real life, when a client asks a planner difficult questions. We had a lot of very senior people to meet and test the candidates in the final round,' she said. Among the judges grilling candidates were Jimmy Woo, executive director (supervision), Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority; Eric Li, senior partner, Li, Tang, Chen and Co; Gary Cheung, chief executive, Hong Kong Securities Institute; Julie Liew, chairman of the pension subcommittee, Hong Kong Investment Funds Association; Paul Chan, president, Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants; Jonathan Watkin, director, The Hong Kong Retirement Schemes Association; and Anthony Espina, chairman, Hong Kong Stockbrokers Association. In all three rounds the candidates were assessed on the basis of the six steps of personal financial planning: establishing client-planner relationships; gathering client data and determining goals and expectations; determining the client's financial status by analysing and evaluating the client's information; developing and presenting the financial plan; implementing the financial plan; and monitoring the plan. Rainbow Pan, overall champion and winner of the independent financial advisory best in the industry trophy, was described by the judges as a 'very good all-round planner'. Ms Pan, who is senior vice-president at ipac Financial Planning Hong Kong, based her 48-page financial plan on an Australian client. In her analysis and evaluation, she had to take into consideration such matters as Australian taxes and legalities as well as Hong Kong factors. Winner of Best in the Industry trophy for the banking sector Anne Chu Chun-tin, financial planning manager, HSBC, handled queries in a manner that removed any uncertainty, the judges said. In the second round she showed professionalism and presented her financial plan clearly and with confidence, demonstrating her 'ability to help the client in achieving the goals', the judges said. Johnny Chan, senior business manager with The Prudential Assurance Company, who won the industry trophy in the insurance category, was praised for his 'in-depth technical knowledge of the products and their features', and for being conversant with the details of his financial plan. He also ensured clients' interests came first, the judges said. 'The three winners stood out because of their well-written financial plans and their impressive presentations,' said Bruce Chong, managing director of Patterson Financial Services and a judge of the awards for the second year. 'The winners based their plans on true and useful information and advice to the investors.' Mr Chong said he was impressed by the standard of financial planning in Hong Kong, compared to what it was two or three years ago. 'The surprise was the quality of the submissions. They were very complete,' he said. 'Several years ago financial plans were quite simple, even naive. Most financial planners didn't provide that much information, and they didn't really communicate with their customers. At that time financial planning was product-selling driven, rather than investment driven. 'That has changed because there is now more education, and consumer and investor requirements have risen. Financial planners have had to get much better to meet these requirements,' Mr Chong said. Adjudicator Ricky Chung, programme manager of banking and finance, LiPACE, The Open University of Hong Kong, said the standard of competition this year was very good overall. Ultimately, the real winners of the SCMP/IFPHK Financial Planner Awards will be the Hong Kong investing public who, if standards continue to improve, will benefit from a greater focus on financial planning excellence by the industry serving them.