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Capital counsels

Published on Friday, 28 Mar 2014
Jones Lam
Photo: Laurence Leung

Prudential HK’s Jones Lam says that the company is looking for financial planners as it explores new areas of demand

Around fifteen years ago, working as an agent for Prudential Hong Kong would have largely meant contacting individuals to sell them insurance. Things have changed, however, and these days many agents’ roles involve providing professional financial advice and solutions.

Jones Lam, deputy chief agency officer, agency professional development at Prudential Hong Kong, says that as Hong Kong’s population continues to age, the company has broadened its range of services. In addition to selling insurance plans, it also offers professional advice in areas like financial planning and health protection. “We have expanded our business focus, especially in the holistic financial and retirement planning arena,” Lam says. As the business widens, it needs to recruit new agents with the skills and knowledge to advise clients effectively.

Lam adds that while the insurance market has become saturated in the last decade, overall coverage is proving inadequate. “In Hong Kong the penetration rate is quite high, close to 80 per cent. However, clients need advice on the coverage they actually require,” he says.

On the financial front, Lam points out that since 2008, the effects of the financial crisis have prompted many in Hong Kong to look for alternative, or less risky, ways of investing their cash. “Since the [financial] tsunami there’s been a downtrend in the whole financial industry. Actually, this presented an opportunity for insurers, because many people realised that a personal financial portfolio focused solely on stocks no longer made sense. They started looking for a more diversified, risk-adjusted personal investment portfolio, to include different investment tools and asset classes,” he says.

This makes the role of personal financial consultant more vital than ever – not only in selling products to customers, but also in offering financial advice and recommending products based on long-term financial needs and retirement planning. To achieve this, the company has recruited new agents skilled in communicating with people and giving financial advice. “We aim to develop an agency force with professional financial planning and advisory skills,” Lam says.

In the past five years, the company has expanded its headcount considerably, and now has more than 6,000 agents in the Hong Kong office. “In the past five or six years we have had significant growth in manpower,” Lam says. He expects this level of recruitment to continue in coming years as the business keeps expanding. “We are promising to deliver a better service to Hong Kong people, so we need a strong team with young, professional talent, able to listen to and understand clients’ needs, and provide the right solutions.”

He says that previously it was difficult for insurance workers to show their value except in claims situations. “Given the change in the nature and scope of services, clients treat practitioners as professional consultants, and value their financial advice and recommendations more than ever,” he explains.

Working as a financial planner with Prudential Hong Kong offers the potential for rapid career progress. Given the industry’s nature, a fresh graduate with the right aptitude can quickly advance to a senior position with promising career prospects and an attractive remuneration package.

“We have many senior managers who joined when they graduated from university some 10 years ago,” Lam says. “Now they have become fairly senior in the firm, growing an extensive client portfolio and leading their own teams.”

According to Lam, Prudential Hong Kong offers its financial consultants extensive support and training to help them develop. It has created a systematic programme to ensure agents receive comprehensive training in all areas of the industry and at all stages of their careers. This includes sharing sessions and workshops that teach consultants how to handle various client scenarios.

“We are proud of that directive,” Lam says. “We are one of the few major players in the insurance industry that has committed to providing agency training in such a diversified range of areas. For licensing, we support agents in whatever way we can to acquire various professional qualifications and compliance requirements. We also provide a tailor-made agency development directory, an evolving curriculum regularly updated to include relevant training programmes in soft and hard skills,” Lam says.

He adds that working as an agent with Prudential can also provide a good work-life balance, as high-performing agents earn enough to be able to work flexibly. “Some agents spend less than half the amount of time at work [compared to professionals in other industries], but still enjoy a similar income level,” he says. “We find it a very good industry for people to achieve a work-life balance.”


THE TOUGH PATH TO THE TOP

Jones Lam explains the vital traits a financial consultant must have.
Drive and dedication “The most important thing is that they are committed. Financial consultancy is a tough career, to begin with. For the first few years you have to go through different training and licence exams, and you have to grow and develop your own client base.”
Compassion and concern “As a financial consultant you have to love people, because you keep meeting and interacting with a lot of people every day. You need to show genuine care and interest in people, and look into their real financial needs before coming up with the right solutions.”


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