New lease of life
Manulife keen to add ‘outsiders’ as it grows its agency force by 2,000, writes Liana Cafolla.
Hong Kong’s insurance industry is on a strong growth trajectory that will provide an increasing number of empowering career paths for those who join the business, says Lawrence Nutting, chief distribution officer at Manulife, who is responsible for all of the company’s distribution channels.
“It really is a growth industry,” he says. “A very high percentage of people’s monies are in short-term bank accounts that are losing value against inflation. That’s not good. Wealth is increasing; lifespans are increasing. The need for protection and products that can distribute that wealth over your retirement years, the need for that continues … and it’s definitely a very strong growth industry.”
Growth is being driven mainly by people living longer, increasingly sophisticated customers and an expanding client base. “The biggest driver of the business now is the ageing population,” Nutting says, adding that while longer lifespans are naturally welcomed by all, they also mean people need to ensure their income can provide for healthcare needs that will become more costly over time.
“It’s not something you can afford to wait until you’re 45 or 55 [to think about] – you need to make sure you’re thinking about that over your lifetime.”
Another factor influencing the growth of the industry is the widening customer base as more mainland Chinese purchase insurance products in Hong Kong. “We are certainly eager to participate in that increase,” Nutting says. “One of the key focuses for distribution is to increase that and capture more of that than our competitors. We feel strongly that we have the best trained force to be able to support those customers, and as a result we should be capturing more of that business.”
With those push factors behind it, Manulife is planning to expand its agency distribution force from the current 6,000 to 8,000 by the end of 2016. Through its ManuLeader Development Programme, the company is helping university students to learn about financial planning and take up job-shadowing opportunities to give them a taste of what the field has to offer.
While the company will recruit new graduates and industry experts, it is also keen to find agents with substantial experienced in other industries who are eager to grow, he says. “We’ll recruit a high number of very talented, very knowledgeable people who have anywhere from five to 10 years’ – sometimes 20 years’ – working experience and who really feel that they’ve hit that glass ceiling,” Nutting says.
The idea is to take an already qualified and successful person and equip them with the tools and knowledge they need to allow them to grow into successful financial planners.
“We provide product training, technology, underwriting – all the background support they need to be successful as financial planners,” Nutting says. “We’ve done that so well we’ve been named the best company for financial excellence in the IFPHK awards for seven consecutive years.”
New hires undergo a 12-month, full-time financial planning development programme designed to equip all levels of agency staff with financial planning knowledge and skills. Called the Financial Planning Development Programme, it is a 12-month, full-time course made up of four modules.
Recruits are guided step by step on how to conduct a detailed financial analysis and make recommendations that meet customers’ insurance, retirement and wealth-management goals.
Modules are taught by both classroom and online methods, and include a focus on the impact of the external environment.
The programme is constantly evolving, Nutting says. “At every stage in their career, you look at the competencies, you look at the knowledge that’s needed, the skills that are needed, and then you design training programmes that match those. We’re very good at that – not only the training needs analysis side of it, but we look at what’s taking place in the market: changes in regulation, in product and demographics. We really focus on all of that.”
By equipping agents with constantly updated information and tailored products, customers are assured of the best advice for meeting needs that change according to variations in their life stage, and lifestyle, says Nutting. “If you’re talking to someone who’s married and just had their first child, their needs are much different to someone my age, who is looking at accumulating as much as they can towards retirement, making sure they’ve got a product that will cover their medical needs when they leave work – which could become more and more of an expense that would eat up capital, and that may cause your money to run out.”
Agents continue to be trained throughout their careers. “As they progress in their career, we identify what skills and knowledge they need to continue providing very good financial advice to their customers,” Nutting says. “Also, as they start building teams, in addition to the knowledge and skills they need for the customers, we provide the knowledge and skills they need to develop the team that they’re building. And all of that is to make sure that our real customer – which is the person who is purchasing the product and we’re providing advice to – gets the best possible advice.”
As customers become more educated about financial planning and more sophisticated in their knowledge of financial products, Manulife is also working to improve its customer-centricity to ensure that clients have a clearer understanding of what they are buying and the details of each product. The process includes clarifying the details of products and applications, facilitating online access to MPF funds, and streamlining communication with customers.
Insights into a rewarding profession
Lawrence Nutting shares three reasons to join the insurance industry.
Lending a hand “The sense of reward gained from helping people with their financial planning throughout their lives, which can make a big difference for them.”
Controlling your destiny “You can progress in the business, based on your own drive, skills, knowledge, efforts and enthusiasm.”
Ongoing professional development “You can build and increase your knowledge on financial planning, financial products, and the technology and software that support you on that.”