Graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2003, Rafiq’s subsequent experience in management consulting with industry heavyweights such as PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young helped him understand organisational needs and processes from the client’s perspective.

Venturing into the financial services industry due to the lack of awareness and discussion on the subject despite high levels of debt in Malaysia, his prime motivation is to help people facing debt issues.

Wealth Vantage Advisory currently manages 60 fee-paying clients, of which 30 are managed by Rafiq personally, with a focus on prospects committed to improving their financial situations and achieving their life goals.

In day-to-day operations, Rafiq emphasises a results-oriented approach with uncompromising stances on integrity and quality, with the Financial Planning Standards Board’s Financial Planner Competency Profile as a guiding framework.

This month, Smart Investor sits down with Rafiq for a frank discussion on the story behind Wealth Vantage Advisory, his perspective on the financial services industry, and matters arising.

Smart Investor (SI): When was Wealth Vantage Advisory established, and how has it carved a niche for itself in the segment since then? Please share any milestones or achievements you’d like to highlight.

Rafiq Hidayat Mohd Ramli (RHMR): The concept behind Wealth Vantage Advisory (WVA), was originally mooted in September 2016, about six months before we started our licensing applications. We aim to be the firm of choice for our clients and advisors alike. Since receiving our licences in early 2018, we have managed to recruit 25 full time advisors.

In terms of niche, we would like to inculcate an awareness among our clients that everyone needs the services of financial planners. We also hope to make financial planning services affordable, even for the M40 market segment, and are focusing on creating impact by solving our clients’ issues, particularly in the area of debt management.

SI: As a fresh face in financial planning, what challenges have you faced and what strategies have you adopted to stand out from established and/or larger players? How has being more agile benefited the firm?

RHMR: One of the first challenges we faced was actually getting our licences approved. As WVA was conceptualised to be a full-service financial planning firm, we applied for all the necessary licences needed to kickstart our firm’s operations. Looking back at the journey we went through, I wish that someone could have been there to guide us through the process instead of us having to figure out what needed to be done by ourselves.

From a business point of view, it was to get some of our advisers to change their mindsets from product-pushing to more advisory approaches, and to assist others in securing clients.

Being new, small and agile has both its pros and cons. Being new, we don’t have any existing image, achievements or even a brand name that we need to live up to, so we can afford to experiment with how a financial planning firm should be run. However, this is also disadvantageous, as sometimes we do feel like we are running blind. 

We feel that our main differentiator compared to other firms, is that we focus on our processes and back office operations. To us, this is pivotal to our business. We currently have 15 employees, which is a large investment in itself. However, we feel that this investment is going to pay off for us in the long run as we grow our business. We have even had other firms, both new and established, come to us to view both our processes and back office operations.

SI: You’ve mentioned that social responsibility and pro bono work feature prominently in the WVA philosophy. Please share a little about this, and do you see the firm maintaining, downplaying or increasing these commitments moving forward?

RHMR: We do feel that one of the roles that a financial planner should play is educating clients and the general public with regards to the basics of managing personal finances.

In WVA, we have conducted workshops/classes for several companies and NGOs on financial literacy. This includes conducting a session for participants from the B40 income group on how they should manage their finances.

We would continue to pursue this commitment as the effects would be twofold: first, it improves the knowledge of the people we manage to meet up with, and second, it creates a positive brand image for our firm and advisors.

From a financial planning standpoint, one of our areas of focus is debt management. In general, those with debt issues can’t afford to engage financial planners, though they would perhaps benefit the most from financial planning advice. As such, we can still provide our financial planning services to such clients, though this is decided on a case-by-case basis.

SI: From your point of view, what is the ideal remuneration model for a financial planning firm, and is such a model currently practical in Malaysia? How does WVA handle remuneration for its financial planners?

RHMR: We do feel that a hybrid model where a planner can earn both fees and commissions from their clients would be ideal, and we do believe that this is the model practiced by most firms right now.

In WVA, we practice single-tier remuneration or revenue sharing between the firm and advisors. Our advisors solely focus on servicing clients, while the firm will manages all other relevant activities such as training, coaching, recruiting, form-filling, scheduling, and more on their behalf.

SI: What are the challenges of educating financial planners in transitioning from “product-pushing” to advisory approaches? What initiatives has WVA taken in pushing this agenda forward?

RHMR: We are currently experiencing this as we speak. Most advisers from agency backgrounds are used to product pushing, as that was how they were trained previously. Changing this mindset takes some time and effort. For us, the first thing that advisers need to focus on is the language that they use (when communicating with clients) and how they think (advisory versus product pushing).

Advisers need to focus on the client’s needs and on solutions, instead of focussing on product details and their advantages or disadvantages. For a financial planner, once you’ve finalised your recommendations to the client, products are just a means of putting these into action, and the firm should be able to support the planner by providing a comprehensive product platform for the adviser and client to choose from based on the recommendations developed.

Wealth Vantage Advisory Sdn Bhd                                                           
Phone: +603 9202 5666