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Setting another benchmark
John Cremer
update on Saturday, July 9, 2011
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EDITOR'S NOTE In this first in a series of five reports, we focus on the story of the awards and what’s new this year. 

With the first-round winners in the SCMP/IFPHK Financial Planner Awards 2011 just announced, the stage is set for an intense battle for prizes for various categories and the overall crown.

Since their launch in 2005, the awards have become an annual highlight, challenging practitioners to demonstrate their financial knowledge and professional skills in a contest that pits them against the best in the industry.

As it has grown, the event has won particular praise and recognition for its impact in two important areas.

One is the competition's contribution to instilling the principles of good financial planning and raising overall professional standards. The other is in raising public awareness of what it takes to manage one's personal finances more effectively and build a future free of major money worries.

"We believe the awards represent the highest level of recognition for professionals in the sector and set benchmarks for the industry to follow," says Eleanor Wan, CEO of the Institute of Financial Planners of Hong Kong (IFPHK).

Sticking to a proven formula, this year's awards again consist of three rounds. The first, now completed, required contestants to submit a financial proposal based on a case study of an actual client. Limited space made it important to focus on the essentials, a key early test of every submission.

In general, the judges wanted to see that each entrant had gone through the recommended steps for assessing a client's needs and goals, and used critical thinking.

"The planner must rethink and tailor the essentials and decide which to include," Wan says. "We believe the process helps to [reinforce principles] and enhance the quality of submissions."

The second round, which is already under way, entails a detailed written plan, followed by a presentation before a panel of judges. This involves an element of role-play, with the judges expected to act and respond as if clients.

The judging criteria reflect the six recognised steps of financial planning, such as establishing client relationships, gathering relevant data, and analysing this to determine the client's financial status and realistic goals. They must also present, implement and monitor the progress of a financial plan, once agreed.

Judges are also looking for that extra something that separates the best from the rest. It could relate to risk analysis, anticipating client needs, or offering practical suggestions to reinvest assets and achieve better long-term returns.

To make it through to the final round in September, contestants must show a full range of financial planning attributes, going beyond an in-depth understanding of investment products and what matters most for clients whose income, expenditure and financial priorities will change as they go through life. It also requires excellent presentation skills, poise under pressure, and a knack for explaining complex ideas in layman's terms.

"In the oral presentation, planners must demonstrate to the judges that they can communicate the important concepts well and articulate financial planning knowledge appropriate to different situations," Wan says.

She adds that the winner will have undergone close scrutiny in three rounds that stretch over seven months. And along the way, they will have shown their mettle in face of a stringent judging process designed and administered by both industry experts and academics. 

"These are the only awards in Hong Kong that provide a level-playing field for contestants from the industry's three major sectors - banking, insurance and independent financial advisory," says Wan. "This is a sign of strong support from within the broader financial planning community and illustrates the importance of the competition to the continued growth of the industry." 


First round winners

Banking
Cheung Ming-fai, Tsang Wai-han

Insurance
Chan Foo-shing, Chan Kin-pong, Chan Kam-sheung, Gordon Chan Tak-chi, Cheung Yuk-chun, Ching Wing-shan, Chui Ka-wai, Fung Kwan-leung, Ho Yiu-lun, Kwan Ho, Lam King-cheung, Lau Shui-hing, Lau Sui-fun, Lau Wing-sze, Lee Pui-kwan, Leung Wai-kit, Leung Yiu-wah, Liu Ying-chi, Lo Wai-hang, Ma Ka-chun, Ng Ka-cheung, Ng Kam-ying, Ng Pui-yu, Ng Wing-hung, Siu Lai-ping, Soong Chun-kuo, Sun Siu-ling, To Wing-sheung, Wong Shun-cheong, Wong Wing-sze, Wong Yuk-nam, Young Hon-man, Yu Man-ying

Independent Financial Advisory
Au Yeung Shuk-kwan, Chan Chung-yin, Cheng Yee-ming, Cheuk Kam-fai, Chow Wing-ho, Chung Hoi-ying, Chung Wai-shan, Nathan de Lyster, Fu Wai-chung, Fung Tsz-yan, Fung Wing-ho, Kwan Wun-yu, Lai Wai-ho, Crystal Lam Cheuk-chi, Lam Yu-mei, Lau Sau-yee, Ryan Lawson, Leung Sik-kwan, Lo Chun-pong, Lo Ka-hei, Man Choi-yan, Ng Ka-yu, Ng Ming-sing, Ng Tsun-hing, Ng Wai-lung, Ng Yuen-ki, Ngai Hiu-wa, Tang Ho-man, Tang Yaw-fay, Yeung Hoi-ling, Yiu Wai-yee, Yun Shing-wong


What's next

August 27 The 2nd round winners, the 2010 grand champion PLUS a special feature on Manulife
September 17 A report on the finalists’ presentations and the latest from Convoy
October 8 The judges, ‘My Favourite Financial Planner’ online voting results PLUS updates from Financial Express
October 15 Reports on the 2011 individual and industry winners


Honouring the champion's champion

The original purpose of the SCMP/IFPHK Financial Planner Awards was to give practitioners a chance to test their professional skills against the best in the industry. That remains the case today.

However, to reflect the sector's growth and the desire to take its message to the widest possible audience, new elements have been introduced over the years.

For example, in 2007, the awards expanded to include a university student category. The competition encouraged teams to analyse and present solutions for a hypothetical - though realistic - financial planning case and gave new insights into the challenges involved. Based on participation and feedback, it continues to be a big hit among business and finance students, their professors as well as those taking other majors.

"The intention is to honour university students who show sound financial acumen and apply all the principles of good planning," says Eleanor Wan, CEO of the Institute of Financial Planners of Hong Kong (IFPHK). "It is also a way for us to increase awareness about financial planning as a possible career."

Another enhancement, being introduced for this year's edition of the awards, will see the company which employs the overall individual champion receiving special recognition. This is to acknowledge the part the employer will have played in so many areas: training, on-the-job coaching, administrative support, investment products, developing a client base and so on.

It complements an existing award which honours the "best company" in each category - banking, insurance and independent financial advisory. That is whichever produces the most individual winners during the successive stages of the year's competition.

"Companies appreciate the awards," Wan says. "They realise their value in terms of raising standards in the profession and educating the public about financial planning. Improvements in these two areas directly help companies when they are offering their own range of services."

Wan says that since the global financial crisis, clients have become increasingly cautious about their asset allocation and in their attitude towards investment risks. "The need for suitable financial advice has become paramount," she says.

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