FPA in China: Expectations Exceeded; Hospitality Unmatched

The FPA/People to People trip to China is essentially over now (see complete coverage on AdvisorOne of FPA in China).  All that is left is the long journey home and I have a few reflections to share.

I could have come to China on my own or with any number of tour groups but I chose to come here with the FPA-sponsored People to People trip. The distinguishing feature of a PTP trip is the ability to meet with peers in one’s chosen field. See a fascinating far-away land and meet financial planners from there, too? That was far too enticing for me to pass up.

Every expectation I had was exceeded. I could write for days about the tourism elements alone but by far the dominant feeling I have today is simply one of gratitude. I am thankful that the FPA chooses to engage our peers around the world in a constructive dialogue about improving professionalism in financial planning. I am grateful that FPA develops leaders like Richard Salmen without whose help this trip would not have succeeded. FPA’s role in this trip was to help promote and build awareness of the trip and let us utilize the talents of Laura Brook, FPA’s Director of International Relations, to help coordinate the professional meetings with our Chinese counterparts. 

Organization leaders can have all the talks they want but it is the actions of practitioners in real-world client interactions that will determine if financial planning is ever recognized as the distinct professional endeavor many of us think that it is.  I am thankful to our delegates for taking the time and incurring the expense to take this trip.  All funding of the trip came entirely from the 44 financial planners and the 15 guests that found the mix of tourism and professional discourse irresistible. 

A sometimes annoying effect of free-speech is that even people who do not know what they are talking about can share their ignorance with anyone that will listen. Contrary to some badly misinformed commentators, FPA did not pay for or otherwise send us over here. We came because of our own interest in China’s history, current culture and to talk shop with financial planning professionals. Any sharing of what we learned is an entirely volunteer activity on the part of our delegates.  I am thankful that the people you have seen submit dispatches to Advisor One took time during their trip to share some thoughts.

Every day I see the media report a variety of opinions about what is happening in China and what China’s role in the global economy is and may be. I am thankful to AdvisorOne for wanting to give its readers a different perspective on China:one that involves what typical Chinese citizens can now do with their newly acquired assets. 

We all clean up the house when we know guests will be coming but FPSB China, the FPA’s counterpart in China, took things to an entirely different level. They named their annual conference the “Sino-American Summit on Global Financial Planning”

and moved it up by five months so they could coordinate meetings with us in the three cities we would visit; Beijing, Guilin and Shanghai.  For the most formal day in Beijing, they simulcast the event to planner groups around China.

They arranged for a variety of types of interactions such as roundtable discussions, town hall meetings, free exchanges, and formal presentations.  In Guilin, we met with a bank that caters to local startups, making loans as small as $1,000 to budding entrepreneurs.  In Shanghai, we met private wealth mangers whose clients average around $10 million in assets.  In Beijing, we met many planners who work with clients whose wealth is somewhere in between those extremes, and visited with professors and students at the University of International Business and Economics, School of Finance.  We got a view of China that would have been impossible without these meetings, so I am grateful to our friends at FPSB China for all they did for us.

At 1,000 words or less this isn’t the format to go into great detail but at this point I’ll mention three takeaways from this experience.

  1. First, I am more convinced than ever that financial planning, as the core process for making financial decisions, is the best way to help clients achieve their goals and therefore the best way to be in the business of giving financial advice.  A trained, experienced, highly skilled advisor that can coordinate and integrate a client’s financial affairs in a manner consistent with FPA’s Standard of Care is literally worth a fortune to clients.  The superiority of this process, and the wisdom inherent in it, is so obvious the need for it exists even in a market like China that is in its infancy.
  2. Second, regulation of financial planning as a distinct profession will happen.  Given, the ridiculous dilly dallying our policy makers have been engaged in with respect to something as basic as a bona fide fiduciary standard, I am not optimistic this will happen soon.  Nonetheless, as the public is required to make more financial decisions in an increasingly complex environment, the need for truly professional advice and proper regulation of the providers of that advice will increase. 
  3. Third, I liked China very, very much and look forward to returning some day but…. I love the USA.  Life over here isn’t nearly as restricted as I was led to believe but it also is clearly not free either.  We were in China on Memorial Day.  Some of our delegates are veterans and fought in Southeast Asia.  I now have a whole new appreciation for their service and the price their friends paid so that I can complain about the likes of the SEC, Congress, and FINRA and that bloggers can express their ignorance about our trip.  God Bless America.   
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