Personal wealth, which is rising rapidly across the whole of China, is creating widespread opportunities for the financial planning industry, and increased cross-border co-operation between affiliates that administer the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) qualification. Eleanor Wan, chief executive officer at the Institute of Financial Planners Hong Kong (IFPHK), says there is continuing co-operation between the Financial Planning Association of Taiwan (FPAT), the Financial Planning Standards Board China (FPSB China) and the IFPHK to compare financial planning trends around the region. The CFP affiliates also exchange suggestions on promoting financial education and the need for professional financial planning excellence. 'We increasingly see members of the industry taking cross-border financial examinations so they can provide services in the local markets,' Wan said. She says as the IFPHK celebrates its 10th anniversary, it will continue to act as a bridge for the financial planning industry, regulators and consumers to protect and benefit investors and enforce high standards of professional practice. 'By working closely with the global network of CFP professionals, we will continue our efforts in raising and maintaining professional standards by helping more practitioners through our internationally recognised certification programme,' Wan said. Increasingly, large financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies either make the CFP certification part of their hiring requirements for financial planning divisions, or require employees to study for their CFP designation as part of their employment contract. To earn the CFP qualification, candidates must meet appropriate experience, education, examination and ethics standards. Once certified, CFP professionals must also complete professional development courses to maintain their competency, and adhere to a rigorous code of ethics and set of practice standards. Candidates obtain their CFP designation through Hong Kong business schools linked to Hong Kong universities and training institutes, which are approved by the IFPHK. To complete the programme, candidates must spend 240 hours of training time, not including self-study time, to study six modules and pass four exams. Wan says that since its inception, the IFPHK has made concerted efforts to promote public awareness of the financial planning industry in Hong Kong and uphold the standard of CFP professionals. In addition to consumer seminars, IFPHK has also collaborated with regulators on various projects, including developing educational literature, organising financial clinics and seminars. 'The SCMP/IFPHK Financial Planner Awards 2010 also play an important part in recognising excellence and raising awareness of the need for the highest standard of financial planning,' she said. The IFPHK believes the rigorous education under the CFP programme reflects the knowledge expected of a professional. At the same time, strongly enforced ethical standards and continuous learning are the most effective way to raise standards. To maintain standards, the IFPHK also believes it is important to take disciplinary action against those members who fail to meet ethical standards. Wan says she is encouraged by the findings of a comprehensive survey recently carried out among its IFPHK CPF members. 'Results point towards a positive outlook for the professionalism of financial planners. The survey indicated that CFP practitioners had better knowledge of their markets and higher professional standards than their peers.' About 70 per cent of CFP members work in the banking and insurance sectors, and nearly half of its members are 35 to 44 years old. 'This group is likely to be working in the market for the next 10 to 20 years, and will provide the backbone of the industry going forward,' Wan said. More than half the respondents have a bachelor degree and 27 per cent hold a master's degree. She says CFP practitioners take the skills of understanding compliance and communication very seriously, and feels that fulfilling their role requires a detailed, in-depth knowledge of professional ethics, and compliance with relevant laws and regulations. 'Our members have told us they always adopt a client-centric safety approach when they plan for their clients. This approach differentiates true financial planning from simply product selling. For example, as economic cycles become shorter, practitioners feel it is important to determine a client's emergency fund provision and consider potential cash management strategies,' said Wan. According to Feng Liu, chairman of FPSB China, unprecedented growth in wealth on the mainland has created both opportunities and challenges. 'There is a huge need for financial planning professionals, but the question is how do you create a relationship of trust between client and adviser?' he said. Many Chinese consumers are wary of financial services professionals because, in the past, they have been misled by people claiming to be financial planners.' He says since the FPSB introduced CFP training five years ago, over 6,000 financial practitioners have gained CFP qualification. To support the rapid development of the CFP certification on the mainland, the FPSB has introduced a four-step series of certificates to achieving the global standard. These include Associate Financial Planner (AFP), Executive Financial Planner (EFP) and Certified Private Banker (CFB). Liu says the establishment of AFP, EFP and CPB certification as career path credentials support the implementation of uniform global competency, ethics and practice standards for CFP certification. He said the CFP qualification had been particularly welcomed by banking organisations, which were the main providers of personal financial planning services. 'When you consider that a banking organisation like ICBC [Industrial and Commercial Bank of China], the Agricultural Bank of China or the Construction Bank of China can have 20,000 branches each, spread across the country, you can see the huge task that lies ahead of us.' This involves adapting the global standards for CFP certification to the mainland marketplace, and ensuring that the CFP certification programme and standards continue to represent excellence in financial planning in the mainland. CFP candidates join training programmes offered by FPSB-authorised universities and professional training organisations in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu. Feedback from candidates who join the four-step CFP programme and their employers has been encouraging. 'We see people progress from a very low level of understanding about the true meaning of financial planning to professionals who take pride in helping their clients develop a long-term financial plan,' Liu said.