When Sheila Dickinson saw a colleague sweep the board in the 2006 Financial Planner Awards, she knew she would like to replicate that success one day. Last year, she missed out because of illness, but this year the veteran British financial planner is celebrating a double success by winning her category and the coveted 'best-of-the-best' award. Ms Dickinson is understandably delighted after becoming 2008 Financial Planner of the Year and independent financial advisory (IFA) category winner in the SCMP/IFPHK Financial Planner Awards. 'There have been so many memorable experiences from this year's competition,' said Ms Dickinson, senior vice-president with ipac in Hong Kong. 'I was delighted when I received the notification of winning the overall IFA category and I enjoyed meeting the other category winners for the first photo shoot and the interviews. 'I really enjoyed doing the second-round presentation, while the final presentation was both daunting and exhilarating because, with the interview panel and several observers, there were a lot more people in the room than I had expected. Fortunately, I was able to overcome the initial shock when I saw so many people and concentrate on the presentation. I just pretended they weren't there.' Part of the final presentation was a 15-minute question-and-answer session, where the judges could ask finalists about any aspect of the financial plan they had submitted. 'Answering those questions to their complete satisfaction as you would with a client, knowing they have understood your answer and actually agree with it, was very important,' Ms Dickinson said. 'Much of the questioning was on the basis of looking at the advice and recommendations from the aspect of why had I done this, should I have done something else and was there an alternative. Being able to answer that in such a way that you hoped to gain agreement from the judges was key.' Ms Dickinson moved to Hong Kong in 2006 from Britain, where she had worked in financial services for more than 30 years, culminating in heading up her own national independent business. Having moved to Hong Kong to be closer to her grandchildren, she said she had become committed to contributing her international experience to the development of local financial planning. 'What I'd like to do is increase awareness of the benefits of financial planning within Hong Kong. This was one of my reasons for entering the competition,' she said. With her international experience and perspectives giving her a unique outlook, she noted that ipac's holistic approach to financial planning probably also made her stand out in this year's competition. 'Taking a holistic approach to clients' financial planning, which is a different style of financial planning and one that I practised in the UK, can help clients to maximise their chances of achieving their goals and objectives,' she said. This approach means looking at a client's overall situation, taking into account any existing arrangements, goals, objectives, what they want to achieve in the future and advising on their overall situation, not just on specific areas. 'I think maybe that sort of detailed and thorough approach, coupled with my own enthusiasm and enjoyment for what I do, came across in the presentation,' Ms Dickinson said. Having just joined ipac in 2006, Ms Dickinson attended the Financial Planner Awards dinner and saw her colleague Rainbow Pan pick up the coveted award for Hong Kong's top financial planner. 'I thought that success was something I'd like to replicate and enjoy. But there are many other very good reasons for getting involved in the awards, such as benchmarking your professional skills against the best in the industry and honing your planning skills in order to improve the services you provide for clients,' she said. 'Year on year, the competition is gaining momentum and its profile is increasing. Through this competition, the IFPHK [Institute of Financial Planners of Hong Kong] is doing an excellent job of increasing the public's awareness of the importance of financial planning and it is certainly helping to raise overall industry standards. 'In turn, that means that the competition among the candidates is spirited and the calibre is extremely high. It is a fantastic competition and something that we in the financial planning community should embrace because it does improve the skills of planners and raises our profile.' Her preparation was helped by the backing of her colleagues, the company and her family, particularly when she spent the mid-autumn festival weekend and the public holiday completing the case study for the final round. 'The competition is probably a mirror of what I do in real life and what I have done for the last 30 years, which is basically putting in place a strategy to help people plan for their financial future. In that respect, I didn't need to do anything different, I just treated the competition as a real-life case to clients, which is in effect what I did with the final presentation,' Ms Dickinson said. Driven by the belief that she can make a difference to people's lives, she said she enjoyed being able to help people financially by doing the right thing for them and helping them not only make the right choices but also understand the implications of those choices.