Financial Express helps advisers give solid advice
One direct consequence of the work of financial planning professionals is that, in the past few years, clients have become far better informed about investment choices and the steps needed to achieve long-term security.
That, in turn, has spurred new levels of interest in understanding how specific financial products work and comparing, say, the returns from similar types of fund offered or managed by different providers.
"In a sense, that is good for us because it means advisers need more sophisticated tools to substantiate their investment recommendations and decisions," says Michael Li, director and head of Asia Pacific for Financial Express (FE). "You can also say that when markets are moving vertically, no one really questions what they are buying. But in periods of volatility like now, clients understandably expect a lot more information about the choices they have."
The firm, which specialises in supplying investment data, performance analysis and various software tools for accredited users, basically wants to help people make better investment decisions. In most cases, clients are financial planners and their employers. By logging on to FE's website, they can track latest prices for funds around the world, sort and compare using numerous criteria, and call up graphs showing relevant performance trends.
"Investors in Hong Kong have become much more demanding in terms of the details they want from advisers - and more cautious," Li says. "They come with questions from all angles and certainly don't just hand over the cheque."
In this, he sees a clear correlation with the way markets and financial institutions are being scrutinised and held to account in every respect. Regulators, including the Securities and Futures Commission in Hong Kong, are more stringent than ever on issues such as compliance, due diligence and audit trails.
Given the events of the past three years, investors - whatever their net worth, current priorities or appetite for risk - also want to be assured about who is handling their money and what will become of it.
"Overall standards and expectations are getting higher all the time," Li says. "Advisers need to know about market movements, but to offer more comprehensive plans, they also benefit from sophisticated tools and technology that keep them up to date with what's happening with different funds around the world."
Typically, he notes, investors in Hong Kong still look at what's in vogue rather than long-term timeframes and steady accumulation. In doing that, they incline towards high volatility, "high return" funds, following the obvious and often relying on luck more than judgment.
As a data provider, FE can't change human nature, says Li. However, by giving advisers and their clients easy access to fact sheets direct from the fund houses, dividend history, capital events and impartial analysis, they can encourage a smarter, more structured approach.
"We are not licensed to give financial advice," Li points out. "We sit in the middle with no conflict of interest. And we definitely cover the whole market, with information on around 150,000 funds across the globe - Europe, India, the Middle East, offshore - they are all there."
To bring order to this, various search criteria make it possible to sort data - by region and country to fund manager name or return objective. If required, the system can screen even more precisely. For example, funds achieving 30 per cent on an annualised basis over the past three years or funds with no exposure to China equities.
"If advisers want anything from factual information to portfolio holdings, they can find it," Li says.