How to find a financial advisor in Hong Kong

For those who are looking for financial advice but don’t know where to start, we have prepared this guide on how to find a financial advisor in Hong Kong. We’ll cover some of the basics that apply anywhere, and some information that applies specifically to expats and to Hong Kong.

There essentially are three ways you can find an advisor.

The first is a recommendation from friends or colleagues. That’s often a good way to start for two reasons. One is that friends and colleagues tend to have broadly similar financial backgrounds. The other is that someone has ‘tested’ the services and can give you a straightforward assessment of the pros and cons.

But of course, sometimes recommendations are insufficient, or maybe you would like to survey the options yourself. So the second way to find one — the natural next step — is to search on the internet.

A word of caution. If you simply search for something like “financial advice in Hong Kong”, you might notice that this is a category where there are many paid search ads (about half of the first page) touting things like ‘Read this guide — it could save you thousands of pounds!’.

For many services, that’s not a problem at all. Let’s say you lost your keys and need a locksmith. The first result is an ad that reads “Jones Locksmiths, 24 hours, cars, safes and homes. Call us now!”, and that’s probably fine. In the case of financial advice, however, bear in mind that different advisors and firms have different marketing and business models.

Some of those ads do belong to good advisors who are simply using them as one of the many ways to build up their client base. But generally speaking, you don’t want an advisor whose business model is completely focused on targeting clients on the web. So when searching, make sure you scroll down a few pages and look at the ones that aren’t necessarily trying so hard to catch your eye.

The third way to find a financial advisor is to look for an industry directory. These are often linked to regulatory bodies or professional associations. In Hong Kong, these include the Institute of Financial Planners of Hong Kong, the Independent Financial Advisors Association and the Hong Kong Association of Financial Advisors, as well as the local branch of the CFA Institute. The advantage of these lists is that they provide some additional credibility, but most don’t offer much more useful information than a name and contact details, so you will still have to go through websites to understand their specialties and ‘get a feel’ for each one.

As for what you should be looking for, it boils down to common sense. Certifications are always welcome and an indication of training and commitment. The number and variety of acronyms have boomed in recent years, but the CFP (Certified Financial Planner) and the CFA (Certified Financial Analyst) are two well-known and well-respected ones. Having studied at well-known universities and worked at well-known financial firms is also good. And above all, it is important that your advisor be professional — they listen to your needs and answer your questions thoughtfully, rather than push a ready-made solution — and transparent about how and how much they charge — whether you pay a fee directly or whether they receive a commission on products, for example.

Some advisors and associations claim that only those with a particular certification or fee-structures are trustworthy. Unfortunately, those claims are often self-serving. As is the case for all professions, whether a financial advisor really has your best interest at heart ultimately comes down to how honest and professional they are. And while tests and certificates are good, they are no substitute for experience and skill. Standard fee-structures do vary from market to market. For example, UK regulation restricts commissions in favour of direct fees, whereas in much of the world commission-based compensation is standard. So as long as an advisor is transparent about how they operate, either structure can work well.

In conclusion, to find a financial advisor in Hong Kong, talk to colleagues, search the web (with a little care) and have a look at the local association directories. Use common sense to make an overall assessment of their qualifications, experience and attitude, just as you would for a physician or a lawyer. Once you have found a couple of candidates, see if the initial consultation meets your expectations.