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“It takes two to tango.”
The above expression is all the more apt in a client-consultant relationship for personal financial planning. The partnership between a client and his personal financial consultant has evolved over many years in Singapore. From the days of having only “insurance peddlers”, the financial planning industry has since produced many fine degree-holding professionals possessing other industry-specific qualifications such as the Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) and Certified Financial Planner (CFP), the equivalent of a Chartered Accountant (CA) and Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in the field of accounting. Nevertheless, even with the various regulatory measures in place, the client-consultant tango can still be an awkward dance item for some with toes accidentally stepped upon. As the case with other industries, black sheeps can still be found, both in the client and consultant community. There are consultants who mis-sell to maximize his own benefits than putting client’s interests first; there are also clients who blame and complain against the financial consultant on an investment-gone-wrong which the client had insisted on, against the advice of the financial consultant in the first place. Because of such unwanted behavior, one of the most obvious outcomes is to have more and more documents signed and submitted during the financial advisory process, where documents in black and white (literally) are used to protect both the consumers and consultants at the same time.
Many client-consultant arguments boil down to the mis-management of expectations. How can we then make sure that the right client is matched to the right consultant from the onset of the financial planning process to avoid necessary frustrations? What are some of the actions that can be taken or questions that can be asked so that the client and consultant can form a mutually satisfactory relationship?
For the Client
A client’s perspective is rather straightforward; he hopes to find the right financial consultant who not only is highly competent and knowledgeable in his field of work but is also someone he can connect with and trust. Through this consultant, the client knows that his financial needs will be addressed and the most appropriate and cost-effective suite of financial solutions will be implemented. To find this Mr/Ms Right Consultant, the selection process in important. In choosing a financial consultant, here are some of pointers that a client can consider asking the potential consultant during the initial interview:
1) Why are you in this business?
2) What qualifications do you have?
For your information, to be a financial consultant in Singapore advising on insurance and unit trusts investment, the regulatory papers required are commonly known as M5 (‘M’ stands for Module), M9, M9a, Health Insurance (HI) M8 and M8a. If the consultant only has the above papers, and are not taking up any extra courses or reading any good books to improve themselves, you know that this consultant may not be the right one for you. Credentials like the Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) and Certified Financial Planner (CFP) tell you that the consultant has taken an interest to improve his knowledge through a rigorous course of study.
3) How can you help me achieve my financial goals?
This is a very broad question that will elicit different responses from different consultants. The things you might want to listen for are “comprehensive financial plan” or “budgeting” that outlines how you will earn, save, spend, borrow, and invest your money, an “asset-allocation plan” that details how much money you will keep in different categories eg insurance plans, different investment asset classes etc.
4) How do you think I should time the market?
A good financial consultant never advises on market timing.
5) What kind of after-sales services do you provide?
Here, the rule of thumb is not to overly expect service beyond what you can get from buying the same financial product through a bank. The good news is however, a self-employed financial consultant will do much more than a fixed-pay employee in keeping his customers happy.
6) Have you ever had a formal complaint filed against you?
One can verify a financial consultant’s record and check that he has not been disciplined for violations of rules or ethics via the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS)’s website using the financial consultant representative’s code.
Once your personal financial consultant has passed your interview and you are satisfied with the financial solutions he has implemented for you, endeavour to keep him hired as your personal financial consultant. To do that, simply give him the respect and trust he deserves as a professional, nothing less than what you give your doctor or lawyer. In order to retain your consultant for the long term, here are some things you can consider doing:
1) Keep your trusted financial consultant in business by giving him business leads, recommending him friends and family. This is one of the best ways to show your appreciation.
2) Give him constructive feedbacks on how to improve the financial planning experience or process you have gone through. Any mature consultants looking to improve themselves and their business process will be more than happy to listen to such sincere pointers.
3) Refrain from asking for free gifts out of the consultant’s commission. Do you ask your doctor for a free iPhone after he gives you his prescription? The consultant should deserve his commission fully if he had done a good job in serving your financial needs.
4) Show up for the appointments on time and not postpone it last minute unless with good reasons. For the self-employed consultant, this is all the more important as he could have used that particular block of time for other clients or family events.
For the Consultant
The consultant has to understand that earning the trust and respect as a financial professional takes time and actions speak definitely much louder than words over time. The golden rule to keep your clients happy is to always live up to what you promise them. As financial consultants, the most powerful marketing tool is via the word-of-mouth; when jobs are done well, that is when your good reputation will spread, creating a self-sustaining business leads-generator.
Consultants should also learn to choose the clientele suitable for their style of planning. You would rather deal with clients who are able to give you the trust you deserve, stay with you over the long term, and stick with the financial plan you have drawn up together with him or her. While at the initial interview with the potential client, have a meaningful discussion to determine if you want to take up this case. Questions you might want to ask the client, other than the usual questions on the client’s finances during the initial meet-up are:
1. Why do you think you need a financial consultant?
2. What are your long-term goals and how do you want me to help?
3. When we look back a year from now, what will I need to have accomplished in order for you to be happy with your progress?
This will enable you to see if you can meet up to this client’s expectation.
4. What did you do to your investments during the 2008 world financial crisis?
Unless you can convince yourself the client is investing for the long term and will not flee at the slightest hint of financial downturn, decline advising this client in the area of investment.
To make the overall financial planning process enjoyable and beneficial to both the clients and consultants, clients and consultants simply have to follow 2 rules:
1) Putting ourselves in others’ shoes
2) Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
Consultants have to bear in mind that when doing planning for your clients, make sure what you recommend is what you would do yourself if you are in the client’s financial situation. Do not ever sell the product that gives you the most financial incentives if you do not want to be sold the less competitive product yourself. As for the clients, treat your consultants with the due respect and trust if you wish to engage their help in financial planning; these are the people you want to be around when there are certain unforeseen catastrophic life events.
In a nutshell, the client-consultant relationship will continue to be interestingly symbiotic and somewhat complex. It takes a lot of mutual respect, trust and understanding to make the client-consultant tango an enjoyable and beautiful experience for all.
Enjoy your dance!
Insure yourself, protect others.
Disclaimer: All information, commentary and statements of opinion contained in this publication are for general information purposes only. They are not intended to be personalized financial or investment advice as they do not take into account your individual circumstances. You are advised to speak to a qualified financial consultant before making any financial decision. This publication should also not be construed as an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any insurance or non-insurance products including any that may be mentioned here. Whilst we have taken all reasonable efforts to ensure that the material contained in this publication is accurate and informative, InsuranceGuru.com.sg and the author of this article do not warrant or guarantee its accuracy, reliability or completeness. InsuranceGuru.com.sg, its employees, parent, related companies, agents and the author of this article will not be liable for any direct, indirect, incidental or any other type of loss or injury resulting from your use of this content.
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The author of this article is Mr Sean Ong. He is a Certified Life Coach and a Chartered Financial Consultant with more than 14 years of experience in the finance industry. A shareholder with the one of the largest independently-owned financial advisory company in Singapore, Sean also leads a top financial advisory group and has been featured on the local TV and radio. In his efforts to contribute to the society, Sean ran 1,000km over 87 days to successfully raise more than $13,000 for a children charity in Year 2012. He also published a book called “Mend Your Socks!” where sales proceeds were donated to charity. Sean can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.