Lessons to learn in wealth management

How do you get ahead in the wealth-management sector? We spoke to a range of people to see how they got where they are today, and what they think are the keys to success in this growing but competitive field.

Nicholas Leung, head, investment product support, wealth management, Bank of East Asia

Describe your role and duties? To put it broadly, I help with the support and development of the bank's wealth-management business, mostly in retail wealth management. I have to go out and source products, conduct due diligence investigations, complete the legal documentation, put together the product leaflets and train the frontline sales people how to market the products. I also work with the branch staff to design strategies for this quarter and the next, and look at the market overviews. It's basically an all-round occupation.

Give a short recap of your career. I have been at Bank of East Asia for four years in the same position. Before that, I spent eight years with a consulting company focusing on investment consultation, advising institutional investors how to manage their funds, mostly provident funds, pension funds and MPFs. We also developed into regional roles. For example, providing advice for South Korean government funds. I joined after graduation, worked as an analyst and then a consultant, and then I left to join BEA.

What allowed you to get where you are today? I feel really lucky to have been able to join my previous company after getting my MBA. I think it is the same with every one. When your boss has confidence in you and gives you exposure, takes you along to high-level meetings and allows you to lead projects even though you have only worked for the company for one or two years, the pressure of that really forces you to grow up. We would have to talk to a lot of CEOs or CFOs. Our boss had a lot of belief in us and provided sufficient training. When you get such exposure at an early stage, it reinforces your self confidence. It's like a positive cycle. Through meeting more people, your self-belief is increased and in the future when you handle high-level activities, your performance should be better with the experience you have accumulated.

What do you enjoy most about your job and why? My role requires me to present product ideas to the whole network of salespeople in the bank, understand their feedback, what they need, and how to combine what is required with what is actually available in the market. Most of the time, people in different positions will have their own wants, but these may not be practical. Therefore, we would have to find ways to try to align 'reality' and 'fantasy', bring them closer together and get the business going. My position is people-oriented. You learn most when interacting with people. Of course the solid background from studying, books, magazines are useful, but it won't get you to the top. Talking to people, understanding their needs, dealing with different types of people, being a manager, this is the most important. Books and knowledge are 'dead' and the ability to interact with people is what counts.

How can you improve yourself to advance further in your career? One should always try to see things from the other person's perspective. This is something my previous and present bosses taught me. When I write and speak, and present something to different people, I have to consider what they want to hear and what I'm supposed to tell them. This skill is very important - to anticipate the needs of other people and meet their needs. It's challenging, but I believe it's also very good training. Eventually, when you get to the top, this is what you should understand, people in different positions have different interests. Different people in different companies also have different interests. If you fail to recognise this and try to set up policies, they may not run smoothly because you may have overlooked the interests of some people. No matter what happens, we always go for a win-win situation. This is an important skill, and one I hope to keep improving on.

Steve Lo, senior vice- president, ING Financial Planning

Describe your role and duties? My main role is being an adviser for my clients. I advise on their new mutual-fund investments, existing mutual-fund portfolios (what's happening in the markets, what the trends are, what to avoid and what to invest in), education and retirement planning as well as estate planning. Simply put, I advise on the health of my clients' finances.

Give a short recap of your career. I started my career in Hong Kong as an investment adviser for mutual funds in early 1994, shortly after I returned from Canada where I studied for 61/2 years for my two university degrees (a bachelor's in commerce, and a master's in business and administration).

What allowed you to get where you are today? The key to earning clients' trust is being knowledgeable and honest. In the financial industry, things are not good all the time. Markets go up or down, some mutual funds encounter problems, clients' income and wealth also change along with the economy. Being knowledgeable means knowing what is happening in the world and telling clients what the trends are (and therefore what to invest in and what not to). Being honest means telling clients bad news as well as good, and advising the best course of action under different circumstances. This is not always without pain. However, it is very important because, over time, your clients will realise you know more than what they read about in the newspapers, and you really care about their financial well-being.

What do you enjoy most about your job and why? Being an adviser, I do not need to be in the office all the time, though I meet clients in the evenings and sometimes at weekends. I decide on the hours I work and what I do. By having flexible working hours, I can choose how and when to spend my time at work and with my family. Despite the intense competition for investors nowadays, in Hong Kong, having earned the trust of my clients means that when they think of new investments, they will ask me first; when they have questions about the markets or funds, they will come to me; and when they know their friends and relatives wish to invest, they will refer them to me. It shows the high level of trust my clients have in me and gives me a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

How can you improve yourself to advance further in your career? Constant and continued learning and improvement have been the norm over the past 14 years. I plan to study for a master's degree in law starting next September. Career-wise, I would like to eventually start my own consultancy firm. With the current rate of increase of assets under my management and number of clients, it is quite possible in a few years time. That will be the next stage of my career advancement.

Jeanne Siu, director, MassMutual Asia Investors; senior vice-president, MassMutual Asia

Describe your role and duties? I have a wide range of responsibilities, from overseeing the training of our financial consultants and sales managers to developing internet services so our customers can manage their policies, make inquiries, and arrange for changes in their fund allocation. I also oversee distribution and promotion strategies for our products, and rally sales momentum by putting together incentive programmes for our staff.

Give a short recap of your career. I have spent the past 20 years in risk- and wealth-management roles. I was appointed assistant vice-president at my current company in 1994. I was promoted to vice-president two years later, and then to my present position in 2000.

What allowed you to get to where you are today? Many people find it boring to keep on doing the same job repeatedly. However, I believe the real challenge is to do the same job, but do it differently each time, and with great enthusiasm. In fact, each and every year we strive to add new elements to our financial programmes to make them even more appealing to our customers.

What do you enjoy most about your job and why? I have a strong passion for the industry and I love the nature of the business. We are not selling goods or services for immediate enjoyment. Everyone in MassMutual Asia helps clients to plan and save for the future. I would describe our job as being 'missionaries'. We are the ones who give our clients a helping hand. Insurance is actually a necessity for everyone, whether you are rich or poor.

How can you improve yourself to advance further in your career? Continuous learning is the key to further advancing career development and staying ahead of the competition. So, if you really want to contribute to the overall success of the company and advance your career, you must take the initiative to empower yourself faster than others. For example, it is believed that a marketing veteran in an insurance company must possess all-round insurance knowledge. However, as insurance companies, nowadays, offer the widest range of services ever, including insurance, retirement and investment, a truly capable marketing professional must posses both insurance and investment knowledge. In fact, not many marketing veterans in the field have adequate investment knowledge at the moment. I would describe myself as a hardworking lady. However, that is not enough to succeed in the world today. To further advance in one's career, leadership skills are extremely important. As a leader, you need to work with others and, if you have what it takes to inspire the people around you to excel, you can expect the unexpected and achieve the impossible.