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Happy days are here again

Published on Friday, 19 Nov 2010
Professionals mingling at the SCMP/IFPHK Financial Planner Awards 2010. The industry has seen rapid growth in recent years, attracting both local and overseas candidates.
Photo: Edmond So
Wealth managers, private bankers, insurance agents or investment advisers, whatever you call them, there is a rapidly growing demand in Hong Kong for financial planners as markets begin to rebound from last year’s crisis.
Photo: Dustin Shum

Depending on terminology, employers in Hong Kong may be hiring wealth managers, private bankers, insurance agents or investment advisers in the coming months.

But despite distinctions made by corporate wordsmiths, the generic term financial planner readily substitutes for all such titles, since the job content, range of skills and professional qualifications essentially come down to the same thing.

"We saw a cooling with the crisis in 2009, but now there is definitely strong demand in the sector," says Eleanor Wan, CEO of the Institute of Financial Planners of Hong Kong (IFPHK).

"We heard from some big employers that they want us to speed up courses as there are not enough qualified people in the market for the positions available."

Wan is referring to programmes the institute oversees, which lead via comprehensive, classroom-taught modules to the certified financial planner qualification (CFP).

This training covers all key elements relating to investment, insurance, MPF and estate planning, and gives instruction on soft skills and the importance of an ethical approach.

The number of CFP holders in Hong Kong has more than doubled in the past five years to today's 4,200 plus.

The number studying for the qualification, or preparing to, continues to rise at an even faster rate.

A jump in IFPHK membership from 5,500 in 2005 to roughly 14,000 now - which includes employees of banks, insurance companies and The Institute of Financial Accountants (IFA) - reflects this.

"One reason is that financial planning is an increasingly popular career choice for graduates," Wan says. "A survey of ours showed that more than 50 per cent of local CFPs have a degree and 27 per cent are MBAs, which is a natural pathway into the profession."

An obvious attraction, she notes, besides the host of potential employers, is the chance for individuals to choose a career direction that best suits their aptitudes and interests. They can advance by focusing on client relationships, building a bigger portfolio and leading a sales team. Or, they can look to move into management, taking on more corporate responsibilities for business and product strategies.

"Young people may think it is a straight ladder from client relationships into management, but there are other options," Wan says. "After a certain time, you get to know your own strengths and skills, and can decide which area works well for you."

She adds that financial planning also offers older applicants the chance to switch career. Many employers now see the value of having staff whose range of ages and backgrounds mirrors that of the broad customer base.

"The door is always open to more mature people who may have the life experience and [interpersonal skills] to discuss topics like retirement planning more effectively," she says.

Convoy Financial Services, which has about 1,200 staff in Hong Kong, confirms that demand for recruits should intensify next year. The firm plans to increase headcount by 10 per cent.

"With the financial markets gaining new momentum, there is stiff competition within the IFA sector for top talent," CEO Rosetta Fong says. 

Study timetable

  • Qualifying as a CFP requires 240 hours of training and more than 10 hours of exams
  • In principle, practitioners can return to client services positions if they find a management role doesn't suit them
  • Employers will always value staff with a proven ability to bring in new clients


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