Our philosophy is reflected in the firm’s core values, with fair dealing, privacy and transparency firmly enshrined in its vision and guiding principles.
In disseminating its consultation services to the mass affluent market and high net-worth individuals as well as public and private corporations, FA Advisory leverages on its independent status and proprietary automated tools to objectively identify and recommend the most suitable financial products for more than 3,500 clients, without bias towards any insurance provider, investment house or platform.
These values have driven the firm forward in establishing itself as a leading independent financial advisory force in Singapore, as well as its ongoing mission to empower Malaysians in attaining financial freedom and effectively planning for retirement.
To learn more about FA Advisory’s vision as well as its insights into the financial services segment across borders, Smart Investor engages Bryan this month for his views on remuneration for financial planners and “tied” advisory approaches vis-à-vis more holistic strategies, as well as other industry issues.
Smart Investor (SI): In your words, what sets FA Advisory (FAA) apart from other financial advisory firms?
Bryan Zeng (BZ): We are fortunate to be part of the Financial Alliance Group, Singapore’s largest independent financial advisory firm. This gives us two distinct advantages:
1. We have adopted the culture of independence in all we do. Clients want to know that the financial advice they receive is in their best interests and independent of any influence. Such influence can come through sales campaigns promoting specific products, biases from ownership of a financial advisory firm, and even management culture. Many of our clients are disenchanted with the sales culture that exists in the industry today.
2. Our affiliation with Financial Alliance Pte Ltd also allows us to tap into its best practices, processes and standards, with the aim of leading the industry here in Malaysia in these areas. We are selective in our recruitment, as not every consultant can fit into an independent and process/best practice-driven culture. Our priority is to serve our clients with unbiased advice, and if we expand, that is tangential to a more important objective.
(SI): Please share a little about the firm’s history, talent base, clientele, including asset range.
(BZ): Our company was established in 2009 in Kuala Lumpur under the name of Uniplan Advisory Sdn Bhd. The firm changed its name to FA Advisory Sdn Bhd in 2013, when the Financial Alliance Group ventured into Malaysia by taking a stake in Uniplan Advisory. We started with about 30 advisors, mainly around Klang Valley, but have since grown to over 70 advisors in KL, Seremban, Jerantut, Ipoh, Johor Bahru, Penang and Miri.
FAA’s focus is to empower Malaysians to live financially secure lives, plan their retirement meaningfully and manage their wealth to realise their individual goals. Our clientele is made up mainly of middle class mass affluent to high net worth individuals. We are proud to offer full-fledged wealth management and financial planning services that add value to support our clients’ overall financial intentions, covering aspects ranging from investment to protection to estate planning.
For investments, we advise on portfolios that help our clients meet their financial objectives, many of which are long-term in nature, like retirement, children education and such. We also advise high net worth clients on wealth structures such as trusts.
(SI): Could you share a little on how the firm has invested into technology to stay abreast of industry trends?
(BZ): FAA has the benefit of tapping onto the existing technology and processes that Financial Alliance has created in-house. We have developed systems for client advisory management, back office business operation system, compensation, document management and product analysis, as well as financial planning tools for clients.
This allows us to effectively “plug-&-play” these existing technologies after localising certain aspects. These technological capabilities drive efficiency, which enables our financial advisers to better serve our clients. Earlier this year, Financial Alliance established its fintech division, and one of its ongoing projects is to build robo-advisory capabilities.
(SI): From FAA’s perspective, how do the Singaporean and Malaysian financial planning markets differ?
(BZ): They differ in their level of client awareness and sophistication. For example, in terms of fees, where in Singapore you will be hard-pressed to find an investor willing to pay an upfront fee (for investment) in excess of 5%, a practice which still exists here in Malaysia. In Malaysia, we also find that many investors continue to adopt short-term investment views.
This may have evolved from years of being sold products based on performance. In Singapore, there is increasing awareness that many financial objectives are long-term and require a long-term investment approach, driven by consultants who focus on the needs of the client.
(SI): What initiatives has FAA implemented towards educating agents accustomed to being “tied” in terms of product range and transitioning them into more holistic advisory approaches?
(BZ): For agents who are tied to a principal, we advise them that independent holistic approaches are the future. Financial advisory is a well-respected profession in many developed markets as it makes a positive impact on people’s lives. This has developed over time and is driven by market demand. Consumers’ needs are increasingly complex and they demand advice of a certain professional standard which is independent, and not tied to an individual product provider.
Consumers also need financial products and solutions from various providers and financial institutions. That is why even in Singapore, many insurers like Manulife, AIA and Great Eastern have started their own financial advisory firms.
(SI): Does FAA practise a fee, commission, percentage or retainer-based remuneration model?
(BZ): FAA adopts a fee and commission-based remuneration model. We give flexibility to our financial planners and their clients to agree on remuneration, as we believe that one size does not fit all. But whatever the model, the priority is to prove that advice has been given in a client-centric and independent manner. We do this by ensuring that every recommendation is properly rationalised and suitable to client needs. We also make full disclosure to clients regarding compensation as well as potential conflicts of interest.
(SI): How would you like to see the domestic financial planning segment evolve?
(BZ): Consumers need to start demanding more from their financial planners. They should ask why certain products are recommended, what credentials their financial planners have to give such advice, how the product compares to others and what the cost is to them.
Every aspect of financial planning – investment, protection and estate planning – is vital. Consumers should demand and expect only the best, as a “tidak apa” attitude will lead to them suffering adverse consequences in the future and putting the blame on the industry. Consumers can do their part in driving professionalism in the financial planning industry.
FA Advisory Sdn Bhd
Phone: 03 6211 4011
Fax: 03 6211 4031