By Amir Sadiq
As Great Eastern Financial Advisers (GEFA) celebrates its 10th anniversary, we caught up with CEO Ms Jesslyn Tan to find out the success factors that have made GEFA one of the largest financial advisory firm in Singapore, as well as get her perspectives on how the financial services industry has evolved.
Since its inception a decade ago, Great Eastern Financial Advisers (GEFA) has grown its advisory force tenfold from less than 300 to over 3,000 financial advisers, to become one of Singapore’s largest financial advisory firms today.
The winning formula
Such a feat is not an overnight task.
Speaking to Asia Advisers Network, GEFA CEO Jesslyn Tan said that a key factor to GEFA’s success comes from having the full support of parent company Great Eastern. As its wholly owned subsidiary, GEFA has leveraged Great Eastern’s established heritage, strong branding, sound financial strength, and its infrastructure and resources, especially from its transformation to a digitally driven business, through the use of digital platforms and suite of insurance solutions.
“Take for example Great Eastern’s Great Digital Advantage platform. Having access to digital tools that really help our financial consultants do business better has set us apart from other financial advisory firms. We were the first insurer in Singapore to provide non-face-to-face advisory sales services to our customers seamlessly and were nimble right from the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year”,” she said.
The Great Digital Advantage platform also digitally empowers the financial consultants to better manage their customer relationships, helps them monitor their sales activities and performance outcomes, which has improved their productivity and efficiency as well.
Another key factor is the capability to offer relevant products and solutions beyond insurance, which includes providing integrated wealth management solutions to meet customers’ changing needs and demographic trends today.
“Besides partnering Great Eastern to provide relevant insurance solutions for our clients, we also partner other service providers to provide a more holistic offering of financial advisory such as legacy planning, corporate tax advisories and will writing and trust services, as our clients’ financial planning needs and goals evolve,” said Ms Tan.
Recognising that wealth is transitioning from millennials to the younger generation Z individuals and families, GEFA has been proactive in developing young talent and equipping existing financial consultants with the right training, technological tools and products to engage this clientele pool.
Supporting sustainability to mark a milestone
Committed towards being a sustainability-driven company in the financial services sector, GEFA together with Great Eastern will support environment-friendly practices.
GEFA kickstarted a joint “Plant A Tree” activity for its financial consultants together with Great Eastern corporate staff to commemorate Great Eastern’s 113th anniversary and GEFA’s 10th anniversary respectively.
The initiative will encourage staff and its financial advisory force to adopt a tree as the goal is to plant 1,130 trees island-wide.
“This is our way to support Singapore’s One Million Trees Movement to restore nature back to society and the city and to achieve a low-carbon economy. By planting these seedlings, we want to enable our future generations to continue living in a clean and green Singapore. It is also one of the ways to give back to our community,” said Ms Tan.
A decade of changes
Ms Tan observed that the last decade has seen the birth and maturing of the financial advisory industry, from small firms to exclusive financial advisory firms backed by major industry players, increasing regulatory oversight on professional activities, and technological advancements that allow business discussions to take place in the digital space.
She also noted that COVID-19 has accelerated the pace of digitalisation in business processes and customer touchpoints.
Ms Tan said the industry needs to evolve and adapt its work processes towards this digital acceleration, and its people need to have digitally led skillsets which will be the new future of how the entire industry will operate.
She added that the industry has also evolved with a growing demand and importance placed on customised and holistic financial planning, as well as using data analytics and digital touchpoints to engage with customers.
Despite all these changes, the role of financial consultants will remain core as the value is in the advisory. “While digital communications are the norm, we cannot replace the human-to-human interaction between our financial consultants and their clients,” she said.
“The financial advisory business is all about being people-centric. Being customer-centric is and must continue to be a part of our DNA to be a successful financial advisory firm.”
A force multiplier business complement
GEFA complements Great Eastern’s existing agency distribution network by acting as a force multiplier to the business. On top of insurance-led advisory, it also provides other financial advisory services by partnering other service providers, such as will writing and trust services, and of late, family office services.
“We were among the first to launch an end-to-end support system and process to customers who are looking to set up family office services in Singapore,” said Ms Tan. She attributed this to Singapore being an increasingly appealing place for high net-worth-individuals who want to accumulate their wealth for future generations.
“We are well equipped with the full capability and suite of offerings to target and service this customer segment,” she said. “Our business growth attests to what we can offer and in time to come, we hope to see it grow by leaps and bounds.”
Looking ahead, GEFA will focus on two main areas.
First, it will continue to digitalise its processes to support its growing business needs and draw on data to help it shape its course forward. “We are adopting data analytics in to provide further insights into our customers’ needs, so that we can continue to provide relevant and innovative products,” said Ms Tan.
It will also continue to grow its financial advisory force and develop the competencies of its financial consultants. This is important to uphold the professionalism of financial advisory, which is core to GEFA’s value of providing service excellence to its clients.
“Our financial consultants are our important assets. So we will continue to develop and invest in the right training as well as partner training providers such as the Institute of Banking and Finance,” she said. “It is important that our consultants continue to upskill to be future-ready and are future-proof so that they can serve our clients’ changing wealth planning needs and their expectations,” she said.
Being a great leader
Diversity has been a hot-button topic in recent times, with a lot of focus being on how leadership positions in most businesses are still very much male-dominated. There has been a growing push for more women to be considered for leadership positions if they are as capable and qualified as, if not more than, their male counterparts.
Having been at the helm for the last decade, Ms Tan is a firm believer that a person’s capabilities should be recognised and that all leaders, regardless of gender, are challenged with balancing their career and family life.
“When I assumed the role of CEO of GEFA, I had to juggle my time between my responsibilities as the CEO of a financial advisory firm and as a parent to my four growing kids. However, I made a conscious effort to spend quality time with my children and family while at the same time, managing the day-to-day running of the firm.
“Looking back, I really appreciate the support and understanding of my family. And of course, I have a competent GEFA team that supports me in all that we do.”
As for what makes a great leader, she believes that it is important for a leader to empower his or her people and have an open communication channel with them.
“I believe that empowering a person is part of his or her learning and development, and I will continue to mentor and coach my people,” she said.
“As John Maxwell said: “A leader is great, not because of his or her power, but because of his or her ability to empower others.” This resonates with me very much and I truly believe in this.”
This article was first published in Asia Advisers Network on 6 October 2021.