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Advisers must be globally-oriented

In a tough economic climate, the basic needs of individual investors don't change much. Their expectations and methods, though, certainly must. Hopes of quick gains or a sustained bull run on the stock market fade away, making it more essential than ever to have a holistic financial plan that looks to the long term.

"At times when markets continually seem to be rising, people have the expectation it will carry on forever; they don't look back at history," says Mark Richmond, assistant vice-president for agency operations at Manulife (International). "But at times like this, coming out of the worst downturn since the 1930s, investors are definitely more thoughtful. They are looking for broader and more detailed advice, and take longer making decisions."

As a result, financial planners must be ready to respond accordingly. Richmond notes that a typical discussion with clients now ranges across everything from health insurance and retirement planning to children's education and global investment opportunities.

"What we see is people taking a mature view on the markets and really thinking about their own financial priorities," he says. "There is now a natural caution among customers, but for us, it helps to have a basis of trust built up."

The core skills expected of professional financial planners haven't changed. They must still explain accurately, communicate clearly, advise clients on cash flow management, and have up-to-date information about the whole spectrum of investment products at their fingertips.

"We pride ourselves on training financial planners, so they can offer this kind of service," Richmond says. "Part of this is operating regular and ad hoc workshops to top up their knowledge, and make sure they understand how and why clients typically underestimate future needs."

Alex Walker, director of wealth management for Financial Partners, notes, in particular, that clients are becoming more global in their investment outlook, and expect the same from their advisers.

He says that in the past, a discussion might have centred on life insurance and mutual fund choices. Now, it is just as likely to cover foreign exchange, futures, geo-politics, and building a portfolio that takes advantage of global opportunities.

"Clients have realised the world is not going to end and, at present, many of them are very busy trying to keep up with [what is improving] in the global economy," Walker says.

"They are looking for advisers who can communicate quickly and effectively, and who employ lateral thinking," he adds.