The top prize winners at the SCMP/IFPHK Financial Planner Awards 2011 deserved all the plaudits they received at the presentation dinner on 11 October attended by 400-plus industry leaders and fellow professionals.
Having battled through three tough rounds of competition, designed to test all-round investment knowledge, presentation skills, and the ability to offer advice tailored to individual client needs, they had certainly proved themselves worthy winners.
But besides their trophies, the stars of the evening had something else in common. In their comments, they were all quick to emphasise that they had learned some important lessons from taking part in the competition and this was already having a positive impact on the way they dealt with clients and colleagues in everyday situations.
For example, Willie Yiu - business manager for ipac Financial Planning HK and this year's overall champion - was already adept at the research and analysis that lie behind different investment or tax planning recommendations. A big part of his job is to act as an in-house adviser for colleagues tackling less straightforward cases.
Now, though, he has a better appreciation of the "human factor" that influences individual client choices.
"I remind myself that the key thing is to understand the client's situation," says Yiu, who was also winner of the independent financial advisory (IFA) category. "Our job is to guide clients towards their goals, but it is important to realise most people have a limited disposable income. So the planning process should identify priorities, explain what is possible, and present options for the client to decide."
Reflecting on the stages of the contest, Yiu found the final round 10-minute grilling most challenging. "[It] has been great training," Yiu says. "I feel it has enhanced my existing skills and taught me how to handle unfamiliar situations more spontaneously."
Julian Cheung, senior international relationship manager with Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong), also feels that taking part has given him new skills and different perspectives. As winner of the practitioner award for the banking category, he notes the need to consider all aspects of a case - not just what the client specifically mentioned - and to see things from their viewpoint.
"The competition has improved my knowledge of some of the more detailed areas of financial planning," Cheung says.
For Henry Ho, district manager for Ageas Insurance Company (Asia), a tangible gain has come from the competition's focus on clarity and good time management during the presentations. It reminded him that the client's time is valuable.
"The time limits really make you consider what you are saying and why," says Ho, also winner for the insurance category.
Concluding the evening's ceremonies and this year's awards, guest of honour Professor KC Chan, the secretary for financial services and the treasury, congratulated all the individual and company winners. He said it was clear that, amid economic uncertainties, the professional skills of financial planners have added importance for clients.