Rosetta Fong’s quest for financial advice led her to become CEO of Convoy, writes Chris Davis.
When Rosetta Fong decided to seek financial planning advice in the mid-1990s, little did she know the experience would bring about a career change that would see her become the CEO of the largest independent financial adviser (IFA) enterprise in Asia.
Fong, now CEO and executive director of the Convoy Financial Group, says it was while considering the best way to accomplish her own long-term financial goals that she decided to switch careers. She was working for a company that dealt in building products, having graduated with a degree in architecture from London South Bank University.
“At that time, financial planning and saving for retirement was a relatively new topic and I was drawn to the idea of helping others achieve their financial goals,” she says. “Providing financial advice and investment solutions is both a privilege and a big responsibility.”
In 1997, with the effects of the Asian financial crisis reverberating through Hong Kong, Fong and three former classmates formed a small IFA company. The following year, they teamed up with Convoy, which at the time was a 10-person insurance brokerage. Fong and her partners developed an ambitious plan to grow the IFA business.
Today, Convoy is the largest IFA company in Asia, employing more than 2,000 staff in Hong Kong and over 1,000 on the mainland.
Being a key part of the management team that in 2010 made Convoy the first IFA company to list in Hong Kong was a high point. “Being able to become publicly listed in a fairly short timeframe was very satisfying, because it enhanced our transparency and strengthened our financial position,” she says.
Fong adds that being CEO of the biggest IFA company in Asia is less significant than ensuring it is in a strong position to provide the best IFA services.
While the introduction of the Mandatory Provident Fund in 2000 brought more awareness of the need to save for retirement, Fong says it is the high cost of gaining access to the property market that motivates many people to look at alternative ways of saving and investing.
“Although they would like to own a property, many young people have given up on the idea and are looking for other ways to invest their money.”
Fong says financial planners need to be trusted to look after their clients’ best interests.
“Part of the reward of being involved with financial planning is all about people. My philosophy is very clear – to be both successful and happy it is essential to provide good service to clients and take care of employees.”
This focus also brought about a defining point in her career as a leader. After several management meetings where cost-saving issues and redundancies were discussed, it was decided that the firm would not lay off a single employee. Instead, a cost-saving committee was formed, which managed to reduce costs by 20 per cent – part of which saw Fong and her partners take a nominal monthly salary of HK$10 for a year.
“It was personally a proud time for me and the company when we took the decision not to make a single redundancy.”
She also played an instrumental role in persuading the office’s building management company to allow one of Convoy’s visually impaired employees to bring her guide dog to the office. A dog lover herself and the owner of two Labradors and three golden retrievers, Fong often takes her pets on “Doctor Dog” visits to care facilities and homes for the elderly.
The growth of Convoy and of Fong’s responsibilities over the years prompted her to study an MBA at the Chinese University, from which she graduated in 2002. “I am a strong believer in continually expanding my knowledge in many different areas and encourage our employees to do the same,” she says.
She is also a keen runner and has taken part in marathons in Japan. “Running is a form of meditation that helps me to think things over or clear my mind,” she says.
She encourages her staff to take part in sports, which she believes to be a good platform for team spirit and learning to overcome challenges. “Sporting activities can help people feel more positive about themselves and can boost morale and emotional well-being.”
Rosetta Fong offers advice for advisers
Property is king “Buying a home is deeply rooted concept in Hong Kong society, and has long been a top life goal for the majority of people for a considerable time.”
Look further “Financial management planning is a long-term life exercise, with property purchase not the only goal.”
Keep it ‘real’ “With skyrocketing property prices and extraordinarily low saving interest rates, the value of money saved in a bank every month for a down payment will only be eroded by inflation.”
Cover all bases “A financial management blueprint should cover three main areas: protection, saving and investment.”