One school of thought suggests there is no ideal financial planner. Different clients have different needs and it is improbable that a financial planner can serve a high-net-worth individual and a generation-Y hopeful equally well. But another school of thought suggests that to be a successful financial planner you must be able to talk to people from all walks of life. Newcomers are often advised to seek clients in a five- to 10-year age range of their own so that common interests are shared and life experiences understood. But a truly successful financial planner can transcend age, wealth, cultural identity and life experience to serve clients vastly different from themselves. These types of planners are not interested in short-term, high-remunerative rewards, but long-term relationships that require a certain tenacity to mature and grow. Johnny Chan Ka-hing, principal financial planner at Prudential Assurance, has many such clients. 'I have a woman who was introduced to me more than 10 years ago. She was in the merchandising business, but in 2000 she quit and went to develop her own business in China. We have seldom seen each other since she left Hong Kong. But I made it my habit to give her a call twice a year - to chat. 'For the first few years she was not interested in my calls. She had started earning a great deal of money and was buying many different financial products from different financial institutions in China without understanding any of the risks or problems that might arise. In China there were many 'financial planners' around her and she didn't know who to give her money to. 'They were all competing for her business and she bought whatever their particular bank or financial institution was promoting. 'Eventually she called me and said her investments were so scattered and not doing well. I believe she contacted me because I had kept the habit of calling her. She trusted the relationship. So I collated all her investments into a spreadsheet and gave her advice about what to do and how to consolidate her wealth,' Mr Chan said. As well as nurturing relationships and taking the long-term view, financial planners must believe wholeheartedly in the importance of financial planning. In their personal lives they must be good financial planners. 'I always share with my clients how I plan myself. I share how much I spend - what I do myself I offer to them,' Mr Chan said. Josephine Li Kwei-ling, vice-president of sales and management development at Altruist Financial Group, said that there were some principles which served financial planners equally well regardless of who they were. 'Each time we meet a prospective client we stand on their side and look into their financial situation. Once we understand their needs and find out their problems we will find solutions,' she said. Ms Li has recruited many financial planners during her career, some of whom had little or no previous experience in the industry. She believes that while a good education is important, and the professional examinations must be passed, everything else can be learned on the job. 'I have recruited many successful financial planners. Most of them have been secretaries and housewives. Some are even a little shy. They don't talk too much, but they have a good heart and are empathetic,' Ms Li said. 'Many attributes become more pronounced as a financial planner matures and they gain experience, but some basic attributes are fundamental to achieving success. These include being eager to learn, being responsible, hard-working, and having an optimistic outlook.' Mr Chan uses the acronym KASH - Knowledge, Attitude, Skills and Habit - to describe the must-have qualities of a successful financial planner. He or she has sound knowledge of all the financial products (K), has a positive attitude to the clients and the processes involved (A), has strong communication skills including being a good listener (S) and has a regular habit (H) of contacting clients and keeping them up-to-date with market changes. 'When recruiting people we want to find candidates who have KASH attributes - but also something more,' Mr Chan said. 'The planners must also be ethical. We are dealing with confidential information about clients so they must follow the compliance systems,' he said. 'Financial planners often have two character types,' Mr Chan said. 'One type has good analytical skills and a sensitivity to numbers, and the other can build a good, easy rapport with the client but may not be so good at analysing problems.' A well-rounded financial planner can bridge this skills gap and marry both aspects. To help new financial planners learn the ropes Altruist and Prudential provide tried and tested systems for them to follow. Ms Li said: 'We have scripts on how to do the telephone approach, the fact-finding interview and the closing interview. We give newcomers the scripts and they practise. During the initial training they do role plays to experience handling different types of people. For instance, male clients will usually talk about facts, but women often talk about feelings.' Despite the scripts and the training there are many challenges for new financial planners to overcome. The products are now so diversified and keeping abreast of them can be hard. Mr Chan, who won the Financial Planners Award 2006 (insurance category) from the Institute of Financial Planners of Hong Kong, recommends continuing education to keep up with industry changes. He adds 100 hours of study to his busy work schedule each year. He also recommends avoiding information overload by focusing on one branch of financial planning, such as insurance, and then slowly expanding to include other areas. This way knowledge is accumulated slowly and burnout is prevented. Perhaps the biggest challenge for financial planners is the need to expand their client base. New financial planners rarely have a large network of associates and their first clients are often friends and family members. But once this source is exhausted they have to work hard to develop their network. For established financial planners such as Mr Chan, the clients just keep coming. 'I have been in this business for more than 10 years. People have confidence in me. The award makes them feel comfortable - it reassures them of my abilities,' he said.