Conversations with Tan Huimin

By Charis Loo and Brendan Loon

Huimin is a Financial Services Manager at AIA Singapore. Prior to entering the financial services industry, however, he was part of a rather different world: Information Technology (IT) consulting. He got into this after graduating from the National University of Singapore with a Bachelor’s in Computer Engineering, and stayed in this line for 4 years before making the switch and shifting to financial services.

What does your typical workday look like?

HM: For young graduate coming into the industry, it will be focusing on learning the ropes and sharpening the saw. A typical workday would involve making calls to clients, getting in touch with potential clients concerning their financial planning – these will be part of your daily work. Usually, you be having lunch appointments, coffee or dinner appointments since these are the times when people are able to sit down with you to have a meaningful conversation about financial planning. In addition to client appointment, you will need to have your fair share of analysis and administrative work. With digitisation, there is no need for you to do this work in office, so you can be mobile. As long as you have your iPad or laptop, you get most of the work done anywhere: Tasks like checking emails, following-up on outstanding client’s request, designing proposals for client solutions, etc. Be prepared to work on weekends as well if required.

Of course, now that I’m in a managerial role, I have to wear different hats. So besides all of the above in which a consultant is doing, I am also doing mentoring and coaching for newer consultants, recruitment for team expansion and keeping ahead with industry changes and updates so that my team is well-informed and equipped in knowledge and skills to advise their clients.

If you were to break it down into hours, you will have 3 appointments in a good day. Each appointment averages about 2 hours. So, we spend about 6 hours in appointments; Administrative tasks about 2 hours each day. Assuming we include time taken for traveling which can be about 1-2 hours. An average workday can be between 10 to 12 hours.

While the hours seem long, it is flexible, and it is a skill to make your time management efficient. The first step is to have a structure in your weekly timetable, when you manage to build a system and structure for yourself, the work can be integrated together as part of your desired lifestyle.

Ultimately, it is an individual choice to decide on how hard they would want to work. To have exponential growth, one must be prepared to work hard at least for the first 2-3 years.

What do you think about having a fixed schedule of work instead of the flexible hours in your line?

HM: I would say that millennials nowadays prefer something more flexible so that, while they work, they are also able to find time for their passions – be it hobbies, personal interests or volunteering causes. Flexibility provides the option for an individual, for example to do something that they need to attend to in the morning and then compensate for it with other time that you have for the day. It is mainly about time management.

With a fixed schedule of work, you are kind of stuck. Whatever activities that you want to plan for has to be scheduled for the weekends or after work on week days. – In a corporate organisation, it really depends on whether the company allows and supports for a flexible work arrangement. Many companies are already slowly moving towards that which is great.

In our line, we have a good balance of flexibility and fixed schedule. The outcome we try to achieve is to maximise productivity while integrating lifestyle and work.

How did you first enter this industry?

HM: I studied in NUS and I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Computer Engineering – which is totally unrelated to what I’m doing currently. Before I made the switch into financial services, I was in IT consulting for 4 years.

In the initial few years after the career switch, I was not able to find the real reason I made the switch into words. Now that I have been in financial services for several years and thinking back I can confidently say that it’s the freedom of personal development plus the potential of income longevity.

When I was doing IT consulting, my personal development was restricted by the role you were in. It is of no fault of the organisation. The reality is that resources that the organisation could provide are limited and they need to be very practical on how resources are utilised. So, you are kind of restricted in a way; you can’t choose to develop yourself and grow in certain area that you would like. Many times, it is largely influenced by company requirements; the focus of what might be more suitable could be missing.

Now that I am in financial services and being a self-employed, my choices are unlimited and unrestricted. It is only a matter of having the self-awareness to understand your strengths and weaknesses and tailoring the learning and development to help you grow as an individual. Continuous learning and building up your knowledge is the only way for us to continue to add-value to our clients.

My director, Mr Jamson Chia, was the person who brought me into the industry. He showed me that the financial services industry is an opportunity for people to do meaningful work and be rewarded appropriately as a result of their own efforts.

My mission is to help my clients make meaningful decisions so that they can live life on their own terms financially. In my experience, I have seen too many cases of individuals accumulating financial products rather than having a concrete plan to reach their financial goals.

Did you face any challenges in the financial industry when you first switched into and entered it?

HM: The first and biggest challenge will be your mindset. What is your belief in financial planning? Who do you see yourself as to your clients?

Because we talk about insurance, we talk about investments, we talk about savings – there is always the fear from your family, relatives, friends and the public. The stigma will continue to be present to a certain degree in our industry. It is not uncommon for people to think that you are only out to do a sale and are not putting their interests first.

You need to have a strong belief and conviction in the work that we do.  That, together with sincerity and being genuine will help you overcome the fear of talking about what you do to others.

The second challenge was to build up your clientele base, because at the start you have no clients. Depending on quickly you pick up the key skills sets and acquire clients, the first 2-3 years are fundamental and key to see if you have the potential to succeed in this career.

It is important that you are comfortable to network and build meaningful connections with people both that you are familiar or not familiar with.

The culture of the team that you are joining is also very important. Do they hold the same values and principals? Do they have the necessary support structure to help grow and achieve success?

What is the culture and environment like at your workplace?

HM: We believe that an organization can only be as successful as its people. Here, we are a partnership of advisors who strive to create a better financial future for our clients and for ourselves through meaningful work.

We embrace a culture of apprenticeship where mentorship and coaching will help us grow. We also strongly believe in collaboration and knowledge sharing which will encourage the team to learn and develop together.

Our work environment seeks to achieve work-life integration. It is of utmost importance not to just achieve your professional goals but your personal goals as well. The degree of openness is such that we see problems as opportunities to improve rather than to avoid and see to other to provide a quick solution.

What advice would you give someone looking to pursue a career in this field?

HM: Firstly, be open to getting more knowledge of the industry and make your own decision. Do not be swayed only by the potential income but what you need to do to get there. Are you ready for that?

There are many success stories as well as many who has tried and did not succeed.

Look for job sampling opportunities like internships. You can explore that to have a better understanding of what we do on a day-to-day basis and then you can decide and see if this is something that you would like to pursue. Your job sampling term or internship period should have helped you assess your potential and how likely it is for you to succeed in this career to a certain extent.

Speak to somebody, someone you trust, someone with experience in the industry. Find a career mentor, a coach who can guide you.

If you are more adventurous, you can explore the entrance exams like M5, M8, M9, M9A, HI. These exams are mandatory requirements by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) you must take if you decide to join the industry. You can also choose to take the exams out of personal interest. It will give you a better idea of the industry, the products and the regulations, so it’s still good for your own knowledge and personal development as well.

Why did you step forward as a career mentor with Young NTUC?

HM: It came as quite a coincidence because one day I was walking along the streets and I happen to see this banner saying that they were looking for a career mentor. It also just happened that this point of time, I had my first coach as well. During the first year with my coach, I benefited a lot in terms of identifying my blind-spots, having exponential growth and breakthrough success in my career. So I thought that if I could be a mentor others exploring this career, it’s a chance for me to give back. And I’d rather them come into the career knowing what to expect than to come in and realise that this is not their cup of tea. I do come across people like that because they have a wrong picture of the industry painted to them. It’s not a guarantee that in the financial industry, you’re going to earn a high income, drive a luxurious car, travel to exotic destinations. Yes, you potentially can but this is not a given.

For the first 2 to 3 years, you are working hard to build your credibility, your personal brand and your clientele base. It’s real hard. For every 2-3 people you see doing very well, there are probably 9 or 10 who aren’t, who failed and has left the industry as well. It’s not easy money. Of course, like all industries, there are outliers but how many are like that?

So, my objective in the mentorship programme is to give people a better picture of what we do, empower them so that if they do choose this as their career, they can have a successful one.

One common misconception is that it is entirely a sales job because you are selling financial products. If you see this as a lifelong career, it’s more than just a sales job, it is a professional job because you need to upgrade yourself to get the necessary qualifications as you progress. It’s important that you increase your own technical expertise and professional knowledge to be able to add value to your clients. That’s when you will become a true professional who can advise people on their financial decisions and help them achieve their financial goals. If you see this as only a sales job, soon, technology will take your place.

Another misconception is that there are no alternative career paths. To clarify; you can decide to continue as a professional advisor or move into a managerial role where you start to build your own team. Such progression typically takes about 2 years which is a good span of time for you to experience what it is like on the ground so that you can mentor and guide new consultants because you understand the challenges that they are going through.

Do you have any success stories of your mentees that you would like to share?

HM: For my first mentee with Young NTUC, while he didn’t join the industry, I am happy that we found success in helping him achieve clarity in making his career decision. So, what we had was more moved from a career development and decision-making over the mentorship period, to a discussion on personal development and a self-assessment. We talked about how he can improve himself, what kind of skill sets to build up, what strengths and weaknesses he has and what resources are available for him to achieve success in his chosen career. He became a mortgage specialist in a local bank and have achieved the goals he set out to achieve for himself in the first 6 months. I am very happy for him and we still keep in touch now.

Which professional competencies would you consider the most relevant for what you do?

HM: Managing work, customer focus, technical and professional skills, initiative, and building trust.