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Flying lessons
Flying lessons

Nov 01 2023 / Round the Table Magazine

Flying lessons

Chua Yi-shyan applies airline cabin crew experience to being tactful with clients.

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When she was a toddler, Naomi Chua Yi-shyan, ChFC, thought sharing a packet of rice with her mom and two brothers was a fun activity. The 10-year MDRT member from Singapore didn’t realize the sharing happened because her family, a single-income household with no financial planning done for the future, couldn’t afford more.

For Chua, who now helps 500 white-collar professionals in their late 20s, 30s and 40s use insurance to protect themselves during their prime working years and foster a successful retirement, this memory was the beginning of a long journey toward helping others achieve financial stability.

Her own family’s financial struggles at first meant assisting Chua would have to wait. Her parents emptied their retirement savings and sold the family home to pay for her younger brother’s university education. But there still wasn’t enough funding for Chua to continue graduate studies in psychology, prompting her to file for early graduation. Needing to start earning money immediately, Chua began working for an airline, providing in-flight service. 

Air travel lessons

In the air, she learned a lot about maintaining satisfying service under challenging conditions, lessons she says can apply to advisors who only have to help clients while on solid ground. Chua recalls how grumpy passengers can be when they’re dealing with jet lag or they’re hungry, leading to them becoming surprisingly upset if they’re not able to get their choice of meal during the flight.

“Instead of taking the things they said personally, we empathize, be sincerely apologetic and try to offer alternatives. Sincerity and willingness to proactively reach out usually will turn people and the situation around,” she said. “Similarly, when you work with clients for years, it is inevitable that sometimes we catch someone on a bad day, or there was a service lapse on our side. The key is to recover with sincerity and kind words.”

That clearheaded perspective and attention to helping others is how Chua was able to stand out in a role that offered few opportunities to distinguish herself among a more experienced crew. Rather than falling victim to the conflict and competition she observed among the staff, she focused instead on what she could control: her interest in and conversations with the passengers, and her role in maintaining the airline’s award-winning service.

Beyond memorizing the names and orders of as many as 40 passengers, Chua also learned to be simultaneously firm, polite and persuasive if someone was violating safety regulations or doing anything else to take away from everyone having a pleasant flight.

In a much different way, Chua learned from the warmest in-flight experiences as well. She remembers a flight heading toward Christchurch, New Zealand, when an older, retired man told the crew he was traveling around the world, heading soon to the South Pole for an Antarctica cruise with researchers, scientists and wildlife photographers.

“If this is what financial freedom looks like,” Chua recalled thinking, “I want to work hard for it too.”

Applying skills to the next career

That desire to provide more for herself, her family and for others led to becoming an advisor, a role requiring the mix of patience and honesty she’d mastered mid-flight. So, when a retired client wanted to follow a friend’s advice and allocate a large percentage of his finite funds into a volatile market, in hopes of earning more to help his adult sons, Chua knew she had to help him recognize that his expectations were unrealistic and vulnerable to a potential recession. In addition to respectfully explaining that she disagreed with the client’s plan, she also set up a meeting between him and his sons.

“They were alarmed and told their father they prefer he put the funds into safer income-generating assets, and that they’d rather have less help than risk having to rescue their father in retirement because his funds were compromised,” said Chua, who has helped support her own parents financially thanks to her success as an advisor. “It was not an easy conversation to have, but I was glad I stuck to what I believed in, and my client’s family was happy with the outcome too.”

That ability to bring positivity to challenging circumstances while emphasizing only what can be controlled has helped in numerous areas, whether it’s mentoring two advisors to qualify for MDRT by motivating them to practice regular habits or helping clients facing seemingly impossible adversity. Like the undergraduate student referred to Chua whose uninsured mom had cancer while the family finances were stretched thin. Using the client’s allowance she received from a scholarship, Chua helped her start investing and insuring herself even while she was still a student.

“Fast forward to now, and she is financially independent, has a promising teaching career, and is planning for marriage,” Chua said. “We focused on bringing ourselves out of an undesirable situation by putting financial plans in place.

“Money is not everything, but it can help to solve a lot of problems.” 

Audrey Heng writes for Team Lewis, a communications agency assisting MDRT with content development for Asia-Pacific markets. Contact mdrteditorial@teamlewis.com.