In recent years, the SCMP/IFPHK Financial Planner Awards have played a key part in raising professional standards and promoting general awareness of the industry. Even so, organisers realised there was scope to add an extra dimension to the competition format. Therefore, starting in 2008, they also gave members of the public a chance to cast votes for "My Favourite Financial Planner", choosing between candidates who had made it to the latter stages of the main competition.
"We have always been looking for ways to get consumers involved so as to promote the industry and highlight key ethical practices," says Louis Cheng, task-force chairman for the awards. "It is crucial to let consumers have a say in the process because they are the ones who use the services of professional financial planners to help manage their investments."
Outlining the essential mechanics of the contest, Cheng explains that once the judges have identified the year's top few performers from each of three industry sectors - insurance, banking and independent financial advisory - the candidates are invited to record a short video presentation.
In this, after a brief personal introduction, they must set out their advice and recommendations on a pre-assigned topic. Naturally, this relates to a financial planning issue. The objective, though, is not so much to come up with a definitive answer as to highlight necessary considerations, warn of possible pitfalls and point to a best approach.
Another key aspect is to demonstrate poise and presentation skills in the video itself. Financial planners may be used to putting a case to clients in face-to-face meetings, but that is by no means the same as putting across oneself and one's ideas in a "performance" to be posted online. To win votes, the video must impress on different levels, and since the time allowed for recording with the official crew is strictly limited, endless retakes are not possible.
"The time limit poses a tough challenge," Cheng says. "Therefore, candidates need to be straightforward with their points and explain why they are useful for the consumers."
He adds that voting is open until October 15 and that the public can view videos of this year's candidates at the website (http://events.scmp.com/fpa2010). Logically enough, the competition format encourages contestants to actively canvass support.
The general intention is that employers, colleagues, clients and other contacts all take the chance to get involved.
"This year, we will also ask the voters to give us reasons why they opted for a certain candidate," Cheng says. "Through the voting process, we would like to get a better understanding of the selection criteria consumers typically use when they choose a personal financial planner.
"We already know what criteria our judging panel uses to determine the award winners each year, but we want to understand how closely that matches what the public look for from practitioners." Last year, more 2,000 votes were received for the "My Favourite Financial Planner" contest and early signs indicate there will be more this time around. According to Cheng, what helped the previous winner to stand out were good use of the time available and a precise presentation of views. The emphasis was on clarity and providing insights of practical use.
"It seemed to me that her opinions and recommendations were useful for consumers," Cheng says.
"We hope that when going through the voting process people will also start thinking about their own financial matters and what they most need from a professional financial planner."