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Cover stars: MetLife’s William Ang talks about getting ahead in insurance sales

Published on Saturday, 14 May 2016
William Ang, division director at MetLife Hong Kong, maps out the opportunities for regional insurance professionals and explains what makes a true industry star. Photo: MetLife
Photo: Thinkstock

People working in insurance who have an eye on the long term have career-development opportunities that are distinct from other areas of the finance sector. William Ang, division director at MetLife Hong Kong, maps out some of these opportunities for regional insurance professionals and explains what makes a true industry star.

How has the insurance landscape changed in the last few years? What are the main factors driving the industry in Hong Kong?

The insurance industry continues to strengthen globally, with improved profitability across the board, most notably in the composite and life sectors.

The insurance industry in Hong Kong has been around for 170 years and is still growing strong. The latest figures from the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance show that the local industry had seen a 10.9 per cent YOY increase in premiums in 2015.

Hong Kong’s ageing population has motivated local customers to become increasingly health-conscious. There is a shift in perceptions on insurance coverage, with more people viewing it as a necessity rather than an option.

As customers are also looking for comprehensive wealth management and planning services, the insurance industry in Hong Kong is now providing more than just insurance protection, which is in line with the global trend.

There are also many more customers from mainland China in the past decade.

As the industry continues to boom locally and around the world, it is more critical than ever that it has access to an effective talent pool. In fact, an insufficient pipeline of future leaders in the insurance industry has been ranked as the top talent risk in the industry.

How are businesses responding to these changes in terms of recruitment?

With the industry now providing more comprehensive wealth management and planning services, I am looking for financial consultants who have the knowledge to accurately understand customers’ needs and identify the best services and products for them.

As a division director, I lead a team of financial consultants at MetLife Hong Kong’s agency to enable our customers to enjoy life and build safety nets they can count on.

In line with MetLife Hong Kong’s commitment to foster a highly professional agency force, one of my recruitment priorities at MetLife Hong Kong is to look for candidates with an entrepreneurial spirit and determination to succeed.

What career paths and opportunities are open to insurance sales professionals?

The industry provides an attractive career to people with an entrepreneurial spirit and those who want to take control of their careers, rather than let the economy or market dictate their development opportunities.

While there are examples in the industry where C-suite executives started their careers as financial consultants, these are in fact two very different careers. Compared to C-suite executives who manage the company within a corporate structure, frontline financial consultants are in fact their own bosses.

The success of a financial consultant is directly correlated to their effort. They set their own targets and determine how far they want to go.

More importantly, the success of a financial consultant is based entirely on his or her own performance. As long as the requirements are met, a financial consultant will be promoted regardless of the company’s performance or the overall economy.

Many successful financial consultants enjoy a high level of autonomy. Their career path really depends on their personal aspirations. It’s different for everyone.

Is there a “best” insurance product to sell in terms of career progression and salary? Is it better to specialise in a single type of product or spread yourself across multiple types?

Insurance is a people business, and different customers have different priorities and needs. There is no single product that can meet everyone’s needs.

In my opinion, a successful financial consultant should not only focus on any single product. Instead, he or she should be a well-rounded wealth management professional who has an in-depth knowledge about different insurance products and who can accurately tailor plans that fit customers’ individual needs.

In order to make the best recommendations, I think it is important to ask these key questions: What are customers’ financial goals? What kind of coverage suits their needs? What are the concerns of customers in life? How can insurance products assist? How much can they afford? Do they want to pay the premiums on a monthly basis, or in a lump sum or in other patterns?

For example when it comes to wealth management, many customers want products that provide a steady wealth growth in the current low interest rate environment in banks. For these customers, we provide wealth management solutions with steady returns.

For customers looking for protection, while modern medical technology advances are creating many more options for patients, these can be costly. As a result, there is a growing market demand in critical illness and medical protection products.

It is the responsibility of financial consultants to help customers identify the right mix of products that could best fit their needs.

How do careers in insurance sales differ from similar fields?

As mentioned earlier, insurance companies nowadays are also offering comprehensive wealth management and planning services and products.

Compared to other areas of the financial industry such as banks or fund houses, the insurance industry can be regarded as an evergreen industry. This means it offers a relatively stable and sustainable career for financial consultants. Insurance companies look at the business in the long term (such as 20-30 years), aligning with the term of the policies offered to customers. As a result, the industry is less affected by the economic cycle.

Financial consultants can also get opportunities for advancement, flexibility and a sense of fulfilment that many young people look for in a career.

What separates a great insurance professional from an average one?

To be great financial consultants, we first need to be excellent communicators who can build rapport with customers and gain their trust and confidence. One key differentiator is excellent listening skills, which allows us to translate the information we receive into solid and sound recommendations.

Next, we must have clear aims and goals. These aims and goals serve as the motivation for us to overcome challenges that may come our way. One common aim for people in our industry is to become a member of the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT), which is recognised internationally as the standard of excellence in the life insurance and financial services business.

In addition, customers can always tell when we are genuinely passionate about serving them. When we are passionate, we give off an infectious positive energy that gives customers the confidence that they have indeed placed their futures in good hands. Service quality goes beyond helping customers fill out claim forms.

Finally, a great financial consultant remembers the key milestones and important dates in a customer’s life, from birthdays and wedding anniversaries to children’s graduations. A simple, personalised message or note goes a long way in fostering a strong relationship with the client.

While a successful sales professional can pocket a lot of money, it is said that most people new to sales will wash out in the first year. What’s the best way to make it through?

It is never easy at the beginning, in any career.

I would advise those considering the insurance industry to keep an open mind and to anticipate challenges at the start. A good approach is to look for a mentor with a good track record in the industry, such as a continuous member in the MDRT, and learn from them first-hand. A good mentor should be willing to share and teach.

Training also helps build a solid career foundation. With a team of devoted and committed trainers, MetLife Hong Kong offers unconventional tailor-made training. Training covers topics like agent-coach interactions and management practices and is designed based on the unique competence system managed by an organisation of MetLife talent.

Beyond the first year, insurance agents need to keep learning about how the industry evolves and keep up with customer expectations, which may change with market fluctuations.

Are there particular qualifications that hirers look for?  How can professionals from other sectors break into the insurance industry?

My team is looking for candidates with four to five years of working experience, who have clear career aspirations.

Although it would be beneficial for a candidate to have experience and knowledge in wealth management, I think it is more important that the candidate has the determination to succeed.

In terms of professional qualifications, to be qualified as a financial consultant, a person must be appointed by an insurer and registered with the Insurance Agents Registration Board(IARB) set up by the Hong Kong Federation of Insurers (HKFI).

At MetLife Hong Kong, it is not necessary for the candidate to obtain these qualifications before joining the team. We provide the necessary training and help with the examination arrangements to ensure that financial consultants obtain the right qualifications.

Rather than qualifications, I focus on the qualities and personal virtues of the candidates. I believe that with proper training and support, we could ensure that our financial consultant would receive the necessary qualification. As my team aspires to be one of the leading agencies in Hong Kong, with a strong team of financial consultants providing high-quality services to our customers, we welcome determined talent.

This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Cover stars.

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