The busi­ness of a se­cure fu­ture

De­spite the stereo­types and the oc­ca­sional neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity, the in­sur­ance sec­tor con­tin­ues to be an at­trac­tive op­tion for young grad­u­ates look­ing to climb the ca­reer lad­der and boost their salaries in the short­est time. Luo Weiteng re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - HONG KONG -

Be­ing a white-col­lar pro­fes­sional in a sharp suit may have seemed a dis­tant dream for the likes of Jackie Qian Xiaofeng, as he pored over his books in a gloomy 10-square-me­ter sub­di­vided unit with barely a cu­bi­cle for a bath­room. But grad­u­at­ing with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion from the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong (CUHK), the young dreamer from He­nan prov­ince be­lieved his “tough days” in Hong Kong were al­most over.

How­ever, he soon came to re­al­ize that the de­gree may have ac­tu­ally been the eas­i­est part. The much tougher hur­dle wait­ing for Hong Kong new­bies like him with stars in their eyes was land­ing a suit­able job in a cut­throat mar­ket.

For sev­eral months, he heard noth­ing back de­spite shoot­ing off scores of re­sumes and fin­ish­ing his months-long in­tern­ship at L’Oreal Shang­hai.

Amid a sea of re­jec­tions, it seemed in­sur­ance com­pa­nies were the only set of em­ploy­ers that cared to re­spond to the ea­ger job seeker.

While he had never even thought of the in­sur­ance in­dus­try as a likely op­tion be­fore com­ing to Hong Kong, Qian came to rel­ish the idea of hav­ing a go at such a high-fly­ing sec­tor.

And so in 2012, he joined the army of cross-bor­der dream­ers who en­ter the lu­cra­tive in­sur­ance in­dus­try each year.

The main­land con­nec­tion to Hong Kong’s in­sur­ance sec­tor runs deep. Main­land vis­i­tors brought an in­sur­ance bo­nanza to Hong Kong for an­other bumper year in 2015, be­ing ex­pected to spend a record of more than HK$30 bil­lion on in­sur­ance poli­cies in the ter­ri­tory — a six­fold in­crease from five years ago.

And main­land peo­ple have also emerged as the driv­ing force for the city’s grow­ing tal­ent pool of in­sur­ance agents.

Though of­fi­cial fig­ures are un­avail­able, it is be­lieved that nearly 30 per­cent of main­lan­ders study­ing in Hong Kong would go on to make a ca­reer in the in­sur­ance busi­ness.

Qian’s first pol­icy sign­ing, worth as much as HK$400,000, came cour­tesy of an un­cle in his home­town in He­nan prov­ince, the same un­cle who had funded his four-year de­gree at CUHK.

This pol­icy saw him climb up the lad­der at the Hong Kong branch of a UK-based in­sur­ance firm and be pro­moted to team di­rec­tor within just three years.

Back in 2011 and 2012, main­land peo­ple ac­counted for 9 per­cent and 13 per­cent, re­spec­tively, of new life in­sur­ance poli­cies in Hong Kong. That per­cent­age grew to 16 per­cent in 2014, about the time when Qian set about build­ing his own team.

Sichuan-born Rain Li, with a mas­ter’s in Chi­nese Lin­guis­tics from the Hong Kong Polytechnic Univer­sity (PolyU), was set to be one of the first re­cruits for Qian’s team at the UK-based in­surer.

Li, then 24, ad­mit­ted be­ing re­ally tempted by the un­ex­pect­edly at­trac­tive pay that in­sur­ance agents in the ter­ri­tory could earn and the pos­si­bil­ity of a lav­ish life­style.

Li was told that the very first year at the in­sur­ance com­pany, she could earn a monthly ba­sic salary of as much as HK$18,000 with no spe­cific sales tar­get set. In the se­cond year, based on the al­lo­cated sales tar­get, she could earn good com­mis­sions from ev­ery sin­gle pol­icy she sold, apart from a hefty salary.

A sur­vey by CT good­jobs, a lo­cal em­ploy­ment por­tal, showed that the me­dian monthly wages of fresh grad­u­ates in 2014 was be­tween HK$11,000 and HK$13,750.

And Census and Sta­tis­tics Depart­ment data show that the av­er­age monthly wage in the fi­nan­cial and in­sur­ance ac­tiv­i­ties sec­tor for the third quar­ter of 2015 was as high as HK$21,067, against av­er­age monthly pay of HK$14,877 among the other in­dus­tries sur­veyed in the poll.

What made the job sound even more tempt­ing was the flex­i­ble hours and an­nual leave of up to 20 days, which would free her from be­ing deskbound all day like usual of­fice work­ers.

Li knew she would be do­ing bet­ter than many fresh grad­u­ates from her PolyU pro­gram, who were forced to live from pay­check to pay­check and even ask their par­ents for help.

“Es­pe­cially for medi­ocre grad­u­ates like me from rel­a­tively well-off fam­i­lies and long­ing to quickly be­come fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent, I think work­ing as an in­sur­ance agent in Hong Kong is a truly at­trac­tive op­tion,” Li said.

How­ever, Li even­tu­ally chose a less well-paid po­si­tion in a lo­cal fi­nan­cial pub­lic re­la­tions firm as her par­ents were not con­vinced that be­ing an in­sur­ance agent qual­i­fied as a de­cent job.

She also feared that her sales pitches would likely have cost her some friends. “But for green­horn in­sur­ance agents, who can you ex­pect to sell your first poli­cies to but rel­a­tives and friends?”

Li’s story throws up the con­cerns young­sters may have in join­ing the in­dus­try, namely, medi­ocre tal­ent, stereo­types and lack of en­try bar­ri­ers.

But Steven Wang Chen­jie, se­nior man­ager at AIA Life In­sur­ance Hong Kong, dis­missed all those fears, say­ing he be­lieves this is a ques­tion that is open to dis­cus­sion.

He said the pro­fes­sion is of­ten be­lieved to have a low bar­rier to en­try, as it may not re­quire a solid fi­nan­cial back­ground or first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence for would-be agents. This well­pay­ing pro­fes­sion is more of a sales job, plac­ing great em­pha­sis on can­di­dates’ per­son­al­ity and men­tal­ity, Wang ex­plained.

The in­sur­ance in­dus­try, he pointed out, is not short of glow­ing suc­cess sto­ries and jaw-drop­ping prices of new poli­cies. But not ev­ery­one can ex­pect to make their mark and earn easy money here.

Armed with a com­pelling re­sume, Wang said he knew ex­actly what he could ex­pect from his job as an agent, even though he started off with a “let’s give it a go” at­ti­tude. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Shang­hai Jiao Tong Univer­sity in 2007, Wang was of­fered a full schol­ar­ship for his mas­ter’s de­gree at Ge­or­gia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy.

He grad­u­ated with straight As and came to the Hong Kong Univer­sity of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy to take his doc­tor­ate in In­dus­trial En­gi­neer­ing.

How­ever, af­ter years of re­search and writ­ing pa­pers, he re­al­ized that aca­demic life was not what he wanted. So the would-be PhD fi­nally grad­u­ated with an MPhil de­gree and gave AIA a shot.

“When I grad­u­ated, I was al­ready 27 years old. I felt I did not have much time left to start from en­try level,” re­called Wang. “So what I ex­pected from my first job was to grow and gain ex­pe­ri­ence within the short­est time, and a cor­po­rate lad­der that I could climb up quickly and en­sure a rel­a­tively high in­come level that oth­ers may have to work hard for years to reach. And this is where the in­sur­ance busi­ness came in.”

How­ever, Wang ad­mit­ted the pro­fes­sion to­day is still mired in con­tro­versy and mis­un­der­stand­ings, as it is not al­ways an easy task to sell in­tan­gi­ble as­sets to ev­ery po­ten­tial client. But he firmly be­lieves what makes the game re­ally fun is the ris­ing de­mand for health in­sur­ance and as­set trans­fers from the main­land’s boom­ing middle-class and high-net­worth in­di­vid­u­als.

The con­cept of trust is what re­ally makes the in­sur­ance sec­tor well-equipped to com­pete with high-pro­file pri­vate banks, es­pe­cially with in­sur­ers re­mod­el­ing them­selves as over­all fi­nan­cial plan­ners and their as­set man­age­ment role over­lap­ping with pri­vate bank ser­vices. Wang can hardly wait to take on the chal­lenges and make a dif­fer­ence.

Con­tact the writer at sophia@chi­nadai­

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