'Clients must come first' for relationship managers

Wealth Management Institute's chief executive, Ms Foo Mee Har, says if relationship managers do not upgrade themselves and their skills, they risk being replaced by someone better or even robo-advisers.
Wealth Management Institute's chief executive, Ms Foo Mee Har, says if relationship managers do not upgrade themselves and their skills, they risk being replaced by someone better or even robo-advisers.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Fulfilling a client's needs must take priority over sales for relationship managers and those managing wealth, according to the chief executive of the Wealth Management Institute.

Ms Foo Mee Har told The Straits Times: "Relationship managers really need to move away from being sales-oriented to truly becoming the client's trusted wealth adviser."

They need to excel in areas such as portfolio and risk management, investment planning and even succession planning.

If they do not upgrade themselves and their skills, they risk being replaced by someone better or even robo-advisers, warned Ms Foo, who took the helm at the institute in July.

The Wealth Management Institute, supported by Temasek and GIC, aims to raise the quality of wealth managers through executive education and consulting. It has put about 7,400 students from 23 countries through 400,000 hours of training since it opened in 2003.

Ms Foo, a West Coast GRC MP and member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade and Industry, sees technology and robo-advisers as enablers, not threats.

"I always tell relationship managers: It's true that a robo-adviser can take a portfolio of funds and allocate it almost instantly based on a set of formulas and make calculations much faster than you.

"However, many clients are not likely to understand what is being churned out by the computer.

"The bankers have a role to explain what the system generates and contextualise recommendations for clients. Only they can build trust with clients, but this also means they must upskill themselves to know more than what the system can do."

That is why she has laid out four new key areas of focus for the Wealth Management Institute, including regional expansion.

Ms Foo, who has a passion for raising financial literacy in Singapore, among other things, plans to take the institute's executive education, including training and courses, to the region. "We see increasing demand from banks from the region, and I'm pleased that what we've done for Singapore is well positioned to be the Asian standard."

Since she took over as chief executive, the institute has already used its expertise to produce customised solutions for regional clients.

It recently licensed a tailor-made wealth management programme to a Thai bank for the next five years, and trained the bank's trainers so that the bank can fast-track the implementation of this curriculum and set up its own academy. "It is also working with many leading wealth management providers in China to build capabilities at their most senior levels," she added.

Ms Foo also wants to increase the scope of qualifications the institute offers to wealth management professionals, some developed in collaboration with world-leading universities and institutes, and to provide continuing education that will be in line with market developments, including online learning.

For instance, the institute and the Singapore Management University - in collaboration with the Swiss Finance Institute in Switzerland and the Yale School of Management in the United States - offers a Master of Science in Wealth Management course. It was announced last month that the master's programme is aligned with the Institute of Banking and Finance (IBF) standards. The programme also covers industry-defined competencies such as client acquisition and servicing skills. Participants also receive the IBF's industry certification.

She wants the institute to grow at at least twice the rate of the previous years, and expand student numbers by more than 30 per cent a year over the next five years.

Even though Singapore is at the heart of Asia, where wealth is anticipated to grow most strongly, Ms Foo has concerns about the impact of new regulations such as automatic exchange of information among jurisdictions and amnesty Bills. This may result in slower growth in Singapore's cross-border business as more money "stays onshore".

Citing a 2015 Deloitte report, she said she is worried about Singapore being classified as the "stagnating centre" and overtaken by Hong Kong. Hong Kong's assets under management were up 142 per cent to US$640 billion (S$908 billion) from 2008 to last year, overtaking Singapore with a growth of 25 per cent to reach US$470 billion in assets in the same period, the report noted.

Ms Foo said: "We really need to guard against stagnation, up the ante in our wealth management services and safeguard our value proposition as a leading international offshore centre."

Correction note: An earlier version of this story said the Wealth Management Institute is a government-led effort. This was based on archives from 2003, and the institute is not funded by the Government.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2016, with the headline ''Clients must come first' for relationship managers'. Print Edition | Subscribe