Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Who are Independent Financial Advisers (IFAs)?

Year 2009 marked my 10th year in the business and I decided to embark myself from a FA platform to the IFA platform. Some of my client asked what are the differences? So I decided to post a blog to address this.

The term Financial Adviser (FA) refers to a corporation and the individual providing the advice is referred to as the Financial Adviser Representative (FAR). Exempt FAs are banks, insurance companies, finance companies, insurance brokers and holders of a Capital Markets Services (CMS) license.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) regulates the usage of the word "independent" by financial advisers. Amongst the key considerations for a financial adviser to use the term "independent" is the provision of more than four product providers from each class of investment product. He should have no direct or indirect commercial arrangements with product providers that will create product bias and should operate freely from any form of product restriction.

IFA firms are financial firms that are started and owned by experienced individuals from the finance industry, and are not part of any financial institution.

In summary, there are many FAs in the market but very few IFAs as using the word "Independent" would mean more regulation and not many companies are ready for that or due to the original structure of their main business e.g. the securities houses and banks. Some ask why the trouble to get myself into trouble then? My answer is simple, I believe I am ready! Being truly Independent is the way to go and will ultimately benefit my client. E.g. Now I can help my client to open securities account from more provider giving them choices rather than in the past where I can only open from one securities house because my ex-company is a securities house and there will be a conflict of interest to represent another securities house.

In a laymen term, IFA is like Carrefour which is a megamart that carries many products but none of the products belong to them. If you wanted to buy a laptop, you can choose to walk into Sony Centre that sell only Sony Laptop or you can also walk into Carrefour to choose from various brands of Laptop plus many other products that you might want all in one place which can save you time and money.

Some clients question the stability of the IFAs and the main concern is what if the IFAs firm collapse? Again my answer is simple: If you bought a Sony Laptop from Carrefour and Carrefour one day decided to withdraw from Singapore market, who will be liable if your Laptop spoil? Do you go to Carrefour or Sony? Do you worry more if Carrefour will withdraw from Singapore Market or Sony to withdraw from Singapore Market?

I think I will have more concern than the client when the IFA I decided to join eventually collapsed as that would mean that I have to find another IFA to house me, so wouldn't I be more careful than the client in choosing the IFA to work with?

After going through my stringent selecting process and talk to almost all the IFAs in the market, I decided to join Financial Alliance which is the first and only Financial Adviser Firm in Singapore to achieve both the Singapore Quality Class and the People Developer status. The coveted dual certification by SPRING Singapore was achieved only after a stringent assessment process. The company vision is "To be the guiding star in the eyes of our clients, and the inspiration for the Financial Advisory industry in the region". Over the last 6 years Financial Alliance has grown steadily from less than 10 consultants to current 150 manpower strength and is the first FA firm to win the inaugural Professional Enterprise Award - PRESTIGE in 2007. While many competitors scrambled to fight for manpower and sales, Financial Alliance focus on building infrastructure and I personally think that spells a lot on the company foresight and ability to fulfill their vision. You can also read more on their success story from the national bestseller "Asia's TOP Investments & Franchise To Make Your First Million" by Aminordin Omar & Timothy Chan (ISBN-13 9789810595210) available in POPULAR On-line Bookstore

If you are keen to explore this career, please visit www.teaengpeng.com and click on "contact" to get in touch with me.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

My 10th Year in the Financial Advisory Industry

Inspired by my blogging buddies Wai Loong and Leroy writing a review of their year 2008, I decided to do a review myself on not for just one year but 10 years!

My first 1 year 6 months...

My first career after my graduation from Ngee Ann Poly was in the insurance industry. I actually got into this industry by accident and not by ambition. I did not remember wanting to be a Insurance Agent since young and I doubt anyone would have. I actually wanted to be a social worker after my graduation but if you remembered my Travel Insurance story, you would recall that my mom suffered a stroke during my last year in my Poly's days and I thought I should find a sales job with flexible hours so that I could rush back to take care of her if necessary since my Dad was having a full time desk bound job and my younger brother was studying abroad. I was flipping the newspaper and come across a sales position which was quite interesting (Of course the advertisement did not mention anything about insurance just mentioned sales position) so I called. The recruiter was very tactful and was telling me that this position required marketing of Unit Trust and as a fresh graduate from Poly engineering background, I had no idea what Unit Trust was but agreed to meet up for further discussion since I am desperate for a sales job. (For your information, Unit Trust was something new and not popularly known to everyone yet in 1999)

I still vividly remembered the place of interview was at The Adelphi opposite Funan Centre. Without any suspicious as it was in a shopping mall, I took a lift up to the office level but when I reached the door step, I found out it belonged to one of the big 4 insurance company. I was naive enough to think that there could be other office co-exist in the room so I walked in only to find out it is still the same insurance company which was too late to walk out because the recruiter warmly welcome me with a firm handshake. After a few round of talking, I then discovered that I was required to sell insurance but they promised to provide a 3 days FREE training for me to consider before joining. As an opened minded person in nature, I thought I had nothing to loss by attending and I could gain some knowledge while still searching for other sales jobs, so I agreed!

The 3 days course really open my mind and I understood the importance of insurance right away when I relate to my mom's incident. I thought I had found a dream career that fit my requirement of time flexibility and yet able to help other! (Only later to find out that most people do not want our help as they though that we want to make money out of them and treat insurance agent like a pest! This was not told in the 3 days training..hahaha) Being an engineer by training, although I was recruited by one of the big 4 insurance company, I apply a logical and systematic approach to compare all the big 4 insurance company during that time which was AIA, Prudential, NTUC and Great Eastern before deciding which company to join. (I will not reveal which company I eventually join to protect the privacy of the people and company that I'll be mentioning here)

In preparation of becoming Insurance Agent, I must pass some industry examination which was the Certificate of Life Insurance during those days (Now the requirement is CMFAS Module). We studied the difference between Agent and Broker in the text which is as follows:

Agent represents the company they work with.

Broker represents the client they work with.

Since then it inspired me to be a broker but when I ask my Agency Leader in the insurance company how can I be a Broker, he told me that the professional liability of a Broker is very high and need high initial capital to become one, so I drop the idea. Think during that time he was referring to starting a Broker Company but he did not tell me that I can join a Broker company and be their representative! On a special occasion, I bump into a friend who was a broker in one of the leading Broker Company, I decided to visit the company and find out more myself and the rest is history. I have not look back since!

My 9 months in a Broker Company...

I was very fortunate to join the right company that emphasis on training for their new adviser. If not, my learning curve would be much longer. In fact, I did not encounter much difficulties in my initial year as a Broker representative and my production was 50% more in 9 months compare to my 1 year in the previous insurance company! Imagine 1 company have 10 products, if we represent 8 companies meaning we have to study 80 products and new adviser will be overwhelmed without a good training system. However, we are still restricted to do only brokering on Life and General Insurance only. Not long after I joined the Broker company, the Financial Advisers Act was announced and everyone was preparing themselves for the transition. My immediate manager and the whole team decided to move to a bigger ship that already have all the tied up in place e.g. Unit Trust and Securities Trading which our Broker Company was not ready then.

My 6 years 9 months in a Exempted Financial Advisory Firm...

We decided to join one of the largest Securities Firm in Singapore and became their pioneer "Team Structured" advisers. Prior to that, they were managing more direct adviser and remiser converted to adviser. We grew together with the company over the last 6 years 9 months and was one of the largest and productive team in the company with 50 Advisers, 6 Managers and 1 Director at the peak of our team. I spent my happiest days in this company and also started my management path 2 years ago forming one of the 6 Managers in the Team.

Financial Advisers Act was only introduced in year 2001 and till now is less than 8 years, so is considered a fairly new market for most people. During these 6 years 9 months, many others FA firm had attempt to get me over to join their company by offering a higher compensation package but I refused to move as almost every player in the market are fighting for manpower and sales growth but few are exploring and fine tuning their processes. Until one day, I found Financial Alliance in year 2009!

I'll make new history from year 2009 onwards! Hope to write another 10 years review in years to come! :-)

See related article:
Who are Independent Financial Advisers
Travel Insurance

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