In the 'flat' world laid out by Thomas Friedman in his best-selling book, nothing can be compartmentalised. Banks that have branched out into financial planning and wealth management services understand this, and with it the importance of integration - integrated services, integrated needs, integrated networks and integrated resources. This is good news for clients and financial planning professionals alike. Since the 1990s, banks in Hong Kong have been evolving towards a one-stop business model that incorporates financial planning and wealth management services into their other banking services. Charity Au, chief operation officer of BOC Life Assurance (HK), says this strategy is particularly important to her bank, which she describes as a 'community bank' given that its parent, Bank of China, is a state-owned enterprise. 'We have 280 outlets - more than HSBC, Standard Chartered, and Hang Seng Bank put together,' Au says. 'We see that it is important to integrate into the community - into every aspect of their needs. 'We know that some people, especially the disadvantaged, will probably prefer to take care of all their financial needs in one bank within the community they are familiar with. And that's why we believe in maintaining our retail outlets, and have our financial planners stationed there. 'Unlike other banks, we are conscious that we belong to a parent company which is a state-owned enterprise. So we are very committed to providing for the needs of the community, and offering our best protection.' Francesca McDonagh, head of personal financial services in Hong Kong for HSBC, says it is also very focused on investing in the community, especially in preparing the population to handle the challenge of an ageing society. The bank has been organising education programmes for parents, children and teachers to encourage them to handle their money wisely. It has also been running youth programmes to educate the young on how to spend, save, manage and invest their wealth. 'Trust in the brand is very important,' McDonagh says, and HSBC's financial planning services have been able to leverage on the loyalty, professional status and trust HSBC has built up. The bank is now one of the key players in financial planning services, leading the distribution of insurance products. For those aspiring to join the financial planning industry, she says that working with HSBC means having access to some of the bank's internal information. The premier relationship manager, for example, will be able to access the portfolios of clients, and offer services and products that best fit their interests. Given the diversity of portfolios, that promises an interesting career where professional financial planners can expose themselves to a wide range of products and services. Vicky Kong, regional head of wealth management for northeast Asia at Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong), also says banks now play a more dynamic, multi-dimensional role in financial planning. Standard Chartered Bank in Hong Kong, for example, acts as a middleman between clients and product providers. 'Sometimes we may partner with external companies that specialise in funds or certain kinds of insurance products,' Kong says. 'Our team will have to discern whether the products are relevant to our clients. On one hand, they play the buy side and get exposed to the different products and services by external players, and on the other they also play the sell side by studying the needs of our clients and reaching out to them.' There is also a different perspective to the scope of wealth management, both in terms of products and regional integration. Financial planners in banks get to be trained in product knowledge in both financial planning and banking areas and the development of the service also runs in sync with the broader business development plan. Kong, who oversees the wealth management business in Hong Kong, the mainland, Taiwan and Japan, sees potential business opportunities with the increased interregional flow of people and wealth thanks to an easing of cross-strait and cross-border regulations. 'We see that, especially within Greater China - Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and mainland China - the flows of capital and [people] have accelerated in recent years,' Kong says. 'That means people are likely to have financial needs that span across the region. And there is potential business growth there. 'Of course, we have our branch networks. That makes it easier to study the needs of the clients and the respective rules and regulations, as well as the products and services available in the market. In the near future, we also hope to increase the mobility of our staff so they can gain regional exposure.' Au from BOC Life Assurance said its Hong Kong team played a key role in shaping the business' development in the less mature mainland market. 'There is interaction and exchange between the Hong Kong and mainland office ... and some services in Hong Kong have been inspired by the mainland offices, too. And in Hong Kong we have more China experts compared with our counterparts because of our connection with Bank of China.' She sees her team working closely with colleagues on the mainland to expand the financial planning business beyond Hong Kong and the mainland.