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My Fulfilling Career as a Financial Planner

By Taylor Liao, CFP

In Shakespeare’s drama ”Hamlet”, Prince Hamlet said “There is nothing neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.” I say that there is no career neither good nor bad, but your choice makes it so. Your career reflects your philosophy of life and values. I chose to be a financial planner because of the strong values that financial planners uphold.

Clients’ Interests First

I have been a salesman for more than 30 years, working for several personal computer companies, such as Acer and other smaller firms. At one point, I had my own trading firm to export personal computers to the Soviet Union. In 1991, when Mikhail Gorbachev no longer served as general secretary and the dissolution of the Soviet Union took place, the door closed for us to do business with them.

So, I closed that trading firm and became a salesman in Aetna Life, a branch of Aetna USA, in Taiwan. I worked there for seventeen years and accumulated a large number of clients. Some of them were loyal to me; they continued to buy products every one or two years. Most people would have been happy to take the job I had as a salesman because of my good salary, and the easy money I was making from yearly client renewals. But, I was tired of being a product salesman and knew that I had to make a change in my job.

I had a lot of clients that I knew well, but I doubted that I was really helping them. After they paid the first year premium and I closed that case, they just kept paying me money, year-after-year. Clients wouldn’t contact me unless they were sick or had an accident and needed help to apply for an insurance claim. The only thing I could do for my clients was save them money and manage their risk. My firm had tried to give training courses on becoming a financial planner. Unfortunately, the courses were not supported with a strong knowledge base. The financial planning that they taught us was just a fancy tool to sell insurance.

Then, I found out that CFP certification was going to be introduced to Taiwan. I began my CFP certification training courses in 2003 and became certified in 2007.

Financial Deception

One day, I gave a lecture about tax planning in an automobile importer’s showroom. After the lecture, a man from the audience approached me. He showed me two brochures of the Lehman Brother’s structure note. He had bought the note but didn’t fully understand the details. We met one week later. I told him that the best return from that note was a quarterly dividend and the maximum return was nineteen percent in two years, but, the seller kept the right to call-back the note if there was a dividend payout for two consecutive months. There was a limitation of return, but no guaranteed principle. In other words, this man could lose the entire principle. He was really surprised when I explained this to him and asked if he could withdraw from the note. I told him that he would lose a lot of money if he withdrew right away. He replied that he had not understood the note was so risky and I had to explain to him that he had signed documents stating that he understood the risk of the product.

At that moment, I realized the true spirit of the CFP professional. CFP professionals agree to “place the client’s interests first” and this value is urgently needed by clients. With this guideline, we can reduce the number of people who purchase financial products and don’t understand the details and risks associated with that product. The financial services industry sells products to clients without telling them where the risk comes from all the time. Consumers are given a lack of information and they don’t know whether their financial purchase was good or bad, how much risk it had, and why they purchased that specific product. If the public first received comprehensive planning from a financial planner, they would be able to choose a suitable product to meet their requirements. The business I work for now only recommends financial products or services when the client needs them and is informed about the risk in advance.

Benefiting the Public: Eslite Bookstore 

In Taiwan, we have a special chain bookstore called Eslite Bookstore that has become a tourist attraction. They have 40 stores in Taiwan and a new branch in Hong Kong. It is the world’s first chain bookstore that is open 24 hours a day, attracting night-time readers. Eslite is a bookstore that is well-decorated; all the areas are always bright and comfortable. Eslite has a unique culture and atmosphere and is comparable to a public library. They even have a reading zone where you can sit and read a book, and nobody will pressure you to checkout and pay for the book. In addition to selling books, they also have a coffee bar, a restaurant, and booths for designer goods such as traditional glove puppets, glass art by Liuli Gongfang, and Chinese embroidery and textile crafts.

Last week, I watched an interview with the chairman of Eslite, Mr. Wu, and his daughter, Miss Mercy Wu. When asked about the sales target Eslite had to reach, Mr. Wu replied “The legitimacy of the existence of an enterprise is to bring benefit to public; only when the public can take advantage from the Eslite Bookstore and they are satisfied with the services that Eslite provides, then, the management will have a chance to make money.” Surprisingly,  Eslite Bookstore lost money for fifteen years after their establishment in 1989, but then they began to turn a profit. In 2011, their profit was 400 million US dollars. I identified with the “bring benefit to the public first” philosophy of Mr. Wu and I’m thankful that I can use this philosophy in my financial planning career. Where else can you find a job where you can make a solid living and help people at the same time?

Case and Point: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 

A client came to me and said that she had a good salary but struggled with saving money. She felt helpless when it came to saving money and disappointed that she couldn’t achieve her goals. Her plan was to get a masters degree in English, which would take four years. After we spoke once and I learned more about her, I found that she had many goals that were outside of her financial realm. She didn’t know how to pick her most important goal and focus her resources to reach it. Two weeks later, I had a presentation for her. First, I told her the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

When Alice first met the Cheshire Cat, Alice asked: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go” said the Cat.

I told her that she had too many goals: buying a house and a used car, child education, and earning a masters degree. She was just like Alice in the story, and didn’t care which goal to pursue. I suggested that she focus on a single goal: to save US$35,000 in 4 years. Then, she would be able to accomplish one of her goals: either to study for a masters degree or to pay the down payment for a house. She agreed to cut the cost and reallocate the insurance policy of her and her daughter, to save more money. I suggested that she work on controlling her spending and also advised her on how to make more money at her current job. After we finished the planning session, she said that she now had peace of mind; her financial matters were no longer a black box. Now, she had a specific plan to reach her financial goals, step-by-step.

Because I am a financial planner, I am able to provide objective and comprehensive planning to people, which is rare to find in a place full of product-sellers. If we play our role responsibly and actually place our clients’ interests first, we really can help a lot of people.

3 comments to My Fulfilling Career as a Financial Planner

  • Julie Straley, Certified Financial Planner™

    Mr. Lao, thanks for sharing your commentary on the fulfillment of a financial planning career and your unique work experiences. Like you, my instincts have always told me to put my client’s interests before my own, so I do just that. We are proof that you can “make a solid living” while helping people at the same time. I highly recommend our line of work to like-minded individuals who have aptitudes in math, finance and financial counseling.

    Best wishes on your future endeavors!

    • Taylor Liao

      Hi, Julie,

      It’s so nice to know that you also work on this career and put the client’s interest first. I think it’s the way that we can earn trust of client, benefit them and also to us.

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