Industry specialists are taking a positive view of the wealth management sector for the first half of the year. Since last year's financial meltdown, people's awareness of financial planning has increased, says Jacky Chan, chief executive of AIA Hong Kong and Macau. 'Instead of relying solely on investment to accumulate wealth, they now look for plans that can help them manage risks and meet financial goals,' Chan says. The demand for insurance and financial planning is a constant factor in people's lives, despite the vagaries of the economic climate. 'The need for life insurance will always be there as customers move through different stages of their lives. These needs will change as family and personal circumstances change, such as getting married, having children and planning for retirement,' he says. Based on figures for the fourth quarter of last year, investor sentiment has stabilised, according to Alan Tsang, director and chief executive of wealth management specialist AMTD. One major factor underpinning the performance of the wealth management industry is the success of thriving retail and hotel industries, which has in turn been driven by the large number of mainland visitors coming to Hong Kong. 'This positive force has found its way to other industries in Hong Kong as well, so overall consumer confidence has risen in the past six months or so,' Tsang says. Finally, better-than-expected salary increases, expected to be 2 to 3 per cent on average for the coming year, are making their mark. AIA will continue to recruit fresh graduates and professionals to join its team of financial planners. It is looking for candidates with both hard and soft skills. Appropriate hard skills encompass professional knowledge and expertise in financial planning. Soft skills, meanwhile, include customer relationship management, service attitude, communications and interpersonal skills, an entrepreneurial mindset and eagerness to learn and excel. Comprehensive training is provided to develop new entrants into professional financial planners and help them achieve professional qualifications. AIA's financial planners can expect to help customers achieve their financial goals through risk management, investment planning and retirement planning, and by preparing education funds for clients with children. 'Job attractions include the potential to earn a high income, plus independence and autonomy,' Chan says. 'More importantly, there are promotion opportunities.' As of last year, it has also opened the door to applications from non-degree holders who are interested in pursuing a career in the financial planning industry. 'These associate financial planners are trained and developed to become all-round financial planners,' Chan says. AMTD is likewise preparing to hire up to 100 fresh faces throughout this year, to add to its already 250-strong team. These positions are closely related to developments within the industry, Tsang says. Its number one target is to recruit individuals with some experience in wealth management and financial planning. Applicants should also be well qualified professionally and skilled in advising on investment and long-term insurance planning. Ideally, candidates should have graduate or postgraduate qualifications and strong interpersonal and communication skills. 'Listening skills are very good, in terms of servicing clients,' Tsang says. This year, improved investor sentiment could mean that more people are willing to join the wealth management industry. 'As far as graduates are concerned, this industry represents a long-term opportunity,' Tsang says. The key advantage at AMTD is that it offers a pool of customers in return for fresh financial planners' skills set, knowledge and background. 'One of the traditional approaches is to require youngsters to go and contact people cold, which is not necessarily their strength,' Tsang says. Promotion prospects for the company's frontline financial advisory force include a career ladder with nine grades. These range from associate financial planner, for those new to the industry, to manager and, ultimately, director-level positions with responsibility for teams of up to 150 employees.