My professional journey part 1: From Sheffield to Hong Kong

By David Snelling

For any of my clients reading this, I may have given you little snippets on my own personal story over the years. However, I’ve never really put it down in writing.

It’s something I’ve meant to do for some time, and, given I reached 10 years since leaving corporate life at HSBC, over Easter I decide put some time aside for this.

So, get yourself comfortable as I tell you the story of the first half of my professional journey.

My journey begins on a wet day in Sheffield

On a dreary January morning in 2005, the city was bustling as commuters jumped off trams and buses. Huddled under umbrellas and free copies of the Metro newspaper, they hurried to their various offices.

Among them was a young man of 24, wearing a brand-new black suit from (probably) Top Man. Feeling slightly nervous, but also extremely excited, he made his way tentatively towards a grand old building at 5 Church Street, Sheffield.

That young man was me, David Snelling, nearly 20 years ago now.

I was extremely excited because this was my first day working for HSBC. The job came with a reasonable salary, a good pension, which would become incrementally more attractive with service and, most importantly for me at that time, a well-defined career path.

My aim was to ascend the career ladder which in turn would provide all the usual corporate trappings such as a laptop, mobile phone, private medical insurance, bonus scheme, and the icing on the cake – a company car.

I loved working at the bank. I made a good impression and showed some early promise as a financial adviser, so I started to progress up that ladder.

Three years after starting, I had earned some good bonuses, paid off my student loans, and was now driving from branch to branch in the South Yorkshire countryside in my Mercedes looking after the banks “premier” customers.

As I was always ahead of my sales targets, I was in control of my time. No one questioned a trip to the golf course if you were delivering! Life was good and I felt like I had made it!

I make a “fashionable” move to London

I never imagined in my wildest dreams, that I would end up in the City of London in 2009.

The move was encouraged by my wife Kiren (KP), who assured me there might more opportunities for her in couture fashion in the capital than in Yorkshire.

And I would also never have believed that I would then move onwards again, overseas this time, with the bank taking me to another city, like Sheffield famous for its trams – Hong Kong!

But as the years progressed, I found it more and more difficult to motivate myself. Every year, having exceeded my sales targets, I would finish for Christmas on a high. Yet coming back to work in January, I would start on zero with another year ahead and faced with having to do it all again from scratch.

I was starting to feel unfulfilled professionally. Colleagues referred to the bank’s customers we served as “clients”. But I knew they weren’t clients. They were customers and there is a clear difference.

I was working in a bubble, and I knew it. I was aware there was another world outside the bank – bigger, scarier, but with much greater possibilities for me and, more importantly, my future clients.

The “simple Yorkshire boy” heads east

Times were changing in the industry too.

New regulations in the UK at the end of 2012 meant that the professional qualification standards had been raised significantly and a complete ban on commission being paid on investment products had been introduced. A great change for progressing my great profession.

And so, shortly after this regulatory change, in May 2013, came my move to Hong Kong. Again, encouraged by KP, who had worked and lived in Bali, Paris, New York, and Italy (to name a few), thought I was still “a simple boy from Yorkshire” and the international experience would do me good.

I would be looking after HSBC International’s wealthiest clients in Hong Kong. I was to be a “Premier Independent Financial Planning High-Net-Worth Manager” – what a title!

But within a week of starting the new job, looking after the bank’s wealthiest clients, I knew it wouldn’t last. In this new role I had lost all freedom, and we were all dominated by the clock.

Focus was now placed on moving customers into the bank’s expensive multi-asset multi manager fund- of-funds product. Like my job title, it was unnecessarily convoluted. This also made a mockery of the term “independent”.

Furthermore, all the great regulatory changes that had recently been introduced in the UK to try and professionalise the industry had not been adopted by the bank overseas.

This just undermined the messaging senior UK bank managers had given us for the past 12 months. The bank was still selling products, receiving commission, and simply paying lip service to the financial planning profession.

So, I started plotting my next move.

My eyes are opened to the true state of financial advice in Hong Kong

Aside from the HSBC’s own practices overseas, I was interested to observe the practices of the wider IFA community in Hong Kong.

As part of our continuous professional development (CPD) we needed to attend in-person CPD sessions that were held by some of the leading product providers. These were, and still are, especially useful sessions.

However, these events also meant we were released from the HSBC bubble which gave some interesting insight through rubbing shoulders with our external competition.

I was amazed at one particular CPD session where the majority of individuals in the room were in a state of uproar about new regulations being introduced to limit the amount of upfront commission they could receive on regular savings investment products. Only a few months earlier, regulations had been introduced that meant that the commission on investment products had to be disclosed to the client!

This was cowboy country, and it gave me a taste of what things were like in the UK before the introduction of the 1986 Financial Services Act!

Deciding on my future career

For me it was clear. Establishing a fee-based financial planning business, serving British expats, under the much higher standards now expected in the UK, was where the opportunity lay.

Through an old friend, I had been introduced to a small London-based independent financial planning firm with the opportunity to set up a Hong Kong business under their name. So, that’s what I did.

Only now can I really articulate and appreciate why I made this leap:

  • To professionalise what I was doing
  • To take control of my time
  • To fulfil my potential to do something that I didn’t think I would do
  • To have control over my earnings.

And this is where I will leave you.

At 33, I was embarking on a huge change. I was naive enough not to fully appreciate the challenges that lay ahead. Had I been fully aware of them, my entrepreneurial spirit may have been stopped dead in its tracks!

Hopefully this has been an interesting read. I may well get on and write part two of my journey onwards after leaving the corporate world.

Get in touch

If please contact us by email or, if you prefer to speak to us, you can reach us in the UK on +44 (0) 208 0044900 or in Hong Kong on +852 39039004.

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