by Ryan Ong
SINGAPORE is a country of opportunities; but opportunity also means tough competition. It takes more than just talent or working hard to succeed. We spoke to some of Manulife Financial Advisers’ (Manulife FA) top financial consultants, and some shared qualities emerged.
In this article, we spoke to three successful young Singaporeans, financial consultants Mervyn Hoe, Charis Low, and Edmund Chen from Manulife FA. Be it ensuring the financial stability of the clients in their care, or gaining a place in the prestigious Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT), these top Manulife FA financial consultants display similar traits that took them to the top.
While their roads are different and uncommon, they all lead in the direction of extraordinary success. The key factors that set them apart are:
Success Factor 1: Thinking beyond paper qualifications
Ms Charis Low, Manulife financial advisor. Image by Mohamad Aidil.
Ms Charis Low, who was a Singapore Airlines cabin crew stewardess, graduated with a Degree in Business Marketing. Becoming a financial consultant would seem like an unlikely career trajectory; nonetheless, in the two years since she joined Manulife FA, Ms Low has already become part of the noted Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) circle.
Ms Low believes education has to be backed with the willingness to step out from one’s comfort zone: “Qualifications do matter, in Singapore’s competitive environment; but it’s not the only way to success. There are life lessons that you don’t learn in any school, outside of lectures and books.”
Mr Edmund Chen, another leading financial consultant who became part of the prestigious Court of the Table (CoT) in his first year with Manulife FA, had a more “traditional” background. He began his career in financial planning as far back as 2007, with a degree in Banking and Finance from SIM. He also believes the right qualifications mean little without persistence, and the willingness to keep learning.
“Having a degree is beneficial, as it gets you into many job openings. However, I strongly believe that that is not the only way to get opportunities in life. Being intellectual without having the right attitude will not bring you far,” he said.
“The hard truth is that a degree doesn’t necessarily result in higher earnings.”
“The hard truth is that a degree doesn’t necessarily result in higher earnings.”
“Self-discipline and persistence are imperative qualities to success. And in today’s competitive world, regardless of your line of work, lifelong learning is paramount for building a successful career.”
Mr Mervyn Hoe, another entry into the MDRT, graduated from NUS with a background in Material Science and Engineering. He only got started as a financial consultant when he helped fill out an empty spot at an orientation camp (and even then, he only sold pet insurance at the start). Today he’s a successful financial consultant at Manulife FA, and he values the ability to connect as much as he does a degree: “Academic qualifications are important in Singapore, especially if you want to climb the corporate ladder,” Mr Hoe says, “And I’m quite happy I graduated with a Bachelor in Applied Science. But the ability to meet friends in University was just as important.”
“In NUS you can meet people from all different faculties and disciplines; and it’s important to build good networks. You need to the ability to build friendships and get along with people, as you never know when you’ll need their help later.”
Success Factor 2: Knowing when to keep going, and when to quit
A common quality among the successful is their seemingly perfect timing – they know when to stay invested in something, and when it’s time to try something different.
For Mr Chen and Ms Low, persistence has to be balanced with the costs they’re facing.
“It’s a mistake to give up prematurely – nothing worth doing comes easy, and the middle of the road to success is always messy. But persistence doesn’t mean being to obstinate either,” said Mr Chen.
“We should evaluate the positive trends we see in our efforts. If there are none, and the price of restarting or trying a different approach would be more cost-effective, then perhaps it’s time to cut losses and move on to a new method.”
Ms Low considers the consequence of failure, when it comes to pushing on. While she agrees persistence is important, she takes the view that: “There is no right and wrong in making such decisions; you just have to weigh up the consequences of further failure. Can you manage those consequences? If your instincts and gut feel say you cannot, you should try something different.”
Mr Hoe also suggests that you need to draw a line, when it comes to work and family: “Draw a line and don’t overwork. Don’t forget about your loved ones.”
“Draw a line and don’t overwork. Don’t forget about your loved ones.”
“If you get too into your job, your job will control you, and you won’t be happy. I don’t work on weekends, even if on weekdays I have no choice and have to sacrifice time with my children.”
Ms Low also draws a clear line on when to stop. “Don’t sacrifice your health”, she said, “Because without it, you can’t do anything. And don’t sacrifice your principles.”
Success Factor 3: Setting separate and targeted goals for work and life
Mr Mervyn Hoe, Manulife financial advisor. Image by Mohamad Aidil.
Mr Hoe separates his work and personal goals: “For work, I set a new goal every year after a conversation with my boss. We set the targets to reach, as well as milestones that are broken into specific days, weeks, and months; that’s the way I’ve worked for the past six years.”
“For personal goals, I have three children and aim to spend sufficient quality time with them. I set goals to spend time to teach them and play with them, and for myself I set goals to exercise daily and learn God’s word.”
Ms Low divides her goals along broadly similar lines, although family, career, and financial goals are separated. Each goal is specific and measured: “For family goals, I set a minimum of one family trip per year, and one family dinner per week. For career goals I got into the MDRT last year, and the current one is to set up my own team. Financially, I focus on saving $150,000 a year at minimum.”
For Mr Chen, effective goal setting goes beyond the self. Success comes from also ensuring you bring others with you: “My goal is to help grow the branch, improve the personal growth of newer colleagues, and assist my clients in growing their wealth. My personal goals are to achieve financial independence, and to enjoy life to its fullest.”
However, Mr Chen acknowledges that motivation is important in reaching those goals, and one source of motivation remains: “Having the desire to contribute to and draw inspiration from others.”
Success Factor 4: Cultivating a sense of empathy
Life inevitably brings confrontations and disappointment. What creates exceptional people is the ability to face such situations, and defuse them with empathy.
Mr Chen actively reminds himself to cultivate this behaviour, saying: “I am very adaptable and independent, and I can act in ways that sometimes seem aloof or uncaring. So I make it a point to go out of my way, to be as sensitive as possible; to have more open communications with people around me.”
“We will face awkward or difficult conversations. We have to understand where the other person is coming from, and understand their point of view. Most people are quick to talk, but it’s important to listen,” said Ms Low.
“Most people are quick to talk, but it’s important to listen.”
However, this doesn’t mean agreeing with everything: “There are times when I’ve had to say no to my bosses as well, because of things that clash with my principles.”
Mr Hoe says besides having empathy, the key is finding solutions amidst the tension: “Every now and then I need to tell someone their insurance claim is denied, or that they do not have the right coverage. But even then it’s important to focus on helping them, and keep looking for alternatives.”
Success Factor 5: Being disciplined in routines
Mr Edmund Chen, Manulife Financial Advisor. Image by Mohamad Aidil.
As any NS man who has been on a route march can tell you, rhythm and repetition do wonders to combat fatigue. Having productive routines can help to steady your mind, and keep you focused.
Mr Chen is a big believer in discipline, of which routine is a part.
“I have a practice of waking up four hours prior to my work schedule. I include a daily run, to train my endurance and give me the capacity to keep focused with a sharp mind,” he said.
“My other routine is giving my wife a goodbye kiss in the morning, before I leave for work; and then a kiss when I return. My family, especially my wife, is a pillar of support that makes my career successful.”
“I make it a routine to spend quality time with my children, to know about their day. Engaging them through play is important- carrying them, spinning them around. Before I end my night I catch up with my wife, have a Milo and some cookies, and allow myself a short television session after the children turn in.”
Mr Hoe has a fixed schedule. “In the morning, I send my children to school, and I then go jogging and do whatever marketing I need. From noon I start work, and I begin the work day by thinking of client profiles and working out the plans they can use,” he said
“Routines help, and I follow them day by day. They also give my children a sense of comfort.”
Ms Low keeps a routine that prepares her at the start of the day, and winds down toward the end: “I wake up at 9am for breakfast with my husband. I read the newspapers, create the day’s to-do list, and then keep updated (usually on investment or Forex-related issues).”
“At the end of the day I do sports; I exercise two to three times a week. Then I spend time with my husband, maybe enjoy a movie together.”
Looking ahead with Manulife FA
Many of these success factors are straightforward and easy to understand. But it takes effort and discipline to cultivate them, and it’s an everyday process, as these Manulife FA financial consultants have shown.
But the sooner you begin, the sooner success itself becomes a habit.
This is an editorial series done in partnership with Manulife Financial Advisers.
Featured image by Mohamad Aidil.
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