Reflecting on her time as a fresh university graduate, Manulife Financial Advisers (Manulife FA) Director of Sales, Financial Services, Jovin Yeo, who has been in the profession for 20 years, said that she initially did not know what she wanted to do in life and came into the industry by chance, first starting at a tied agency before eventually joining Manulife FA.
After 16 years with the tied agency, she began to realise that many of her clients had progressed quite significantly with their lives – they had started building their careers, their families, and their businesses.
“I felt that I had reached a plateau in terms of my growth. And I knew that I needed to do a lot more in order to be able to continue to sustain and value-add to my clients,” she said.
“As such, I was very determined, and decided to pursue estate planning by working with a team in Manulife FA that specialises in that field. Hence, I transited to Manulife FA in 2018 and since then, I have never looked back.”
Manulife FA Senior Director of Sales, Financial Services, Gregory Fok on the other hand, began his career in engineering. During his time there, he worked long hours in the office and also saw his boss doing the same.
“My boss would still be in the office when I leave. And when I come back the next morning, he's still there. So that's when I asked myself, “If I'm going to continue in this career path, then I'll be like him, right? Is that something I really want?” And that's when I made up my mind to make the transition. It was an easy decision,” he said.
His decision to come into the financial advisory industry was also partly driven by a curiosity about how people made, or lost, money.
Sharing an anecdote about a primary school friend he had initially lost contact with, Gregory talked about how his friend had initially come from wealth but when they finally caught up after many years, the friend’s family had gone bankrupt.
The incident, coupled with his innate curiosity, made him want to find out what happened and what he could learn from it.
A sudden acceleration
Following their transition to Manulife FA, both Jovin and Gregory noticed significant improvements to their respective businesses.
During Jovin’s 16 years in her previous tied agency, she had managed to reach the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT). But despite her best efforts, she found that she could not progress further than that.
“I was a very consistent and very hard worker. But no matter how hard I worked, I could only maintain it at MDRT,” she said. “It was only in 2018 after I joined Manulife FA, that I managed to break through to Court of the Table (COT).”
She subsequently went on to achieve Top of the Table (TOT) last year and is now one of the youngest financial services consultant (FSC) in Singapore to have achieved the Lifetime MDRT award as well as make the 15-year honor roll.
Having initially joined Manulife in 2005, Gregory managed to achieve MDRT the following year. But similar to Jovin, he faced challenges breaking through to the next level.
“After I went on to Manulife FA and a different platform, that's where I think about a couple of years later, the transition occurred and I went on to see COT. And it's been consistently at COT so far, for about three or four years,” he said.
The difference makers
The sudden change in fortune for both of them was quite remarkable. But what was different?
For Jovin, what set Manulife FA apart were the huge improvements in training quality and the culture of the organisation.
“The quality of the training and the courses that are available to us to us is vastly different. And in terms of the culture, I would say that Manulife FA is very vibrant, very forward-looking and very dynamic,” she said.
“The culture also fosters a very encouraging environment for everybody to want to pursue growth and to excel. I think that is something that is really important in any organisation.”
Gregory, meanwhile, highlighted the open architecture concept of Manulife FA which affords its members access to different insurance companies as well as platforms.
“We are not bound specifically on insurance products alone and have a whole array of solutions that's available,” he said. “So when we talk to our clients, it's no longer about what's the best product out there, but the focus is about where is it that you want to get to and how can I best support you to get there together.”
“There are just too many options out there. People get confused and don't know what to choose or they get stifled because they're just unaware of what options are available.”
A confluence of culture and family
Interestingly, both Jovin and Gregory have family members within Manulife FA – Jovin’s husband and Gregory’s father and brother.
Inevitably, in such situations, there will be times when work is brought up during family time, and this has yielded some benefits. Gregory, for instance, mentioned how his kids have noticed how meaningful his career is, and they have expressed interest in following in his footsteps.
And it works both ways. Jovin talked about how the financial advisory culture has helped her instil the right values in her kids.
“In this profession, it is vital to have a genuine interest in people. Before you can touch the lives of others, you need to first have a genuine interest in other people. So with that, we have also inculcated inherent values among our children,” she said.
For example, if there is an elderly lady about to enter a lift, her young son is aware enough to step aside and say, “After you”. She added, “I think it's a good thing to learn this type of values when they are young.”
Balancing work and family time
But it is not always smooth sailing, and there have been instances when both of them have had to dial back on the work-talk during family time.
“Occasionally, the line between work and family gets blurred, so we could be having our family dinner together with our children but get so excited and passionate about our work that we end up talking about it until our children have to stop us,” Jovin laughed. “We have to be mindful because we can really talk about work all day.”
Gregory added, “Sometimes when you work with a family member, you have different expectations of each other and the distinction between whether you are a co-worker or a family member gets blurred.”
He stressed that it is important in such situations to remember to communicate as family members and not as co-workers.
The importance of having a “why?” and a good mentor
Having achieved so much success in their careers, we also asked Jovin and Gregory for any advice they might have for FSCs who have similar aspirations.
Jovin emphasised that the first thing a FSC needs is a growth mindset and to keep believing in themselves and continue persevering even if they have not reached their objectives yet. In line with this, she added that it is also crucial for FSC s to understand why they are in the business.
“There are many FSCs that I meet out there … they don't really understand the “why?”. Consequently, because they don't really have clarity and a deep conviction of their “why?”, they may not know themselves truly well enough. Thus, you have to search for your big “why?” – Why are you in this business and what do you really want,” she said.
She added that it is also important for FSCs to invest their time and energy in finding a mentor to coach them, and that a good mentor is one who is able to impart their soft skills, particularly in the art of sales psychology, in addition to the knowledge and hard skills that one would normally expect.
“You can go out there and attend so many courses, upgrade yourself, and do everything possible. But if you don't have the guidance of a good leader to develop you and mentor you, you will take a longer time to reach the place that you want to go,” she said.
Knowing yourself – what works for you and what you love
Gregory stated that it is also important for FSCs to know themselves and given that there are many ways to achieve success in the industry, to find a route and approach that works well for them.
For instance, he recalled how he initially started working with lawyers as his main clients. While the lawyers were good clients to have, he started getting connected with doctors who then became clients, and he subsequently began to specialise in doctors. Eventually, he realised that the more consultative nature of doctors was more in sync with his own disposition.
“After a while, I realised that I have a natural affinity to doctors, so I’d rather work with doctors than lawyers,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I'm going to stop working with lawyers entirely. But I think it's about knowing your strength, knowing who you are, and finding that space because you don't have to be all things to everyone.
“You just have to be your authentic self to that small group of people. And when they find they are comfortable and able to connect with you, it's just natural that they’ll refer people your way.”
Adding on to that, he also highlighted the need to specialise within the industry. In addition to finding a group of clients to specialise in, it is also critical for FSCs to find a niche within financial planning, considering that it is such a broad topic and discipline.