Robb Report Singapore Thought Leader: Michael Lee, CEO and Principal Adviser of Cornerstone Planners

“No matter how advanced technology is, the human touch is important,” says Michael Lee, CEO of Cornerstone Planners and member of the Robb Report Singapore Thought Leaders community

They say a cornerstone sets the foundation of a building – the element by which all other elements align themselves to. It should then come as no surprise that Michael Lee, founder, chief executive and principal adviser of Cornerstone Planners, decided upon this name for the independent financial advisory firm 26 years ago.

“We champion clients’ interests; that is our lifeline, our culture and ethos. I always say that we are eccentric about being client-centric. It’s about people, concepts and relating to people.”

Who or what has shaped who you are?

When I was a year into my first financial advisory job, I was notified one day that someone my age had drowned in their condominium pool. As a rookie, I thought, “oh no, that’s so fast”. I went there and I saw a young man full of aspirations, only to be ended by a morning swim. He lived alone and the family was at a loss and had to frantically search his place for his documents while they were distraught by his death. I felt that something had to be done – planning was needed to prevent more turmoil and heartache.

What is the future for this industry?

The financial services industry is evolving. There’s more digitalisation, e-platforms and a lot of roboadvisers and artificial intelligence being developed – fintech. We have to accept change and adapt our processes. Only then would we be bold enough to go out there and achieve.

At the end of the day, our industry is not just high-tech, it is high-touch. If you’re only going around doing sales, you worry about becoming redundant. But if you see it as an advisory, you realise that technology cannot eliminate that. For example, you can google your symptoms, but you should go to a doctor because medical advice is important. There are also many templates for will drafting, but you should still seek legal advice from a lawyer.

When we start looking at this as an advisory process, no matter how advanced technology is, the human touch is important. It’s not just about doing a quick sale like you’re buying a commodity. I want to see the industry move in this direction.

I always say this: “Prescription without diagnosis is malpractice.” Likened to medical settings, we cannot prescribe something for our clients without diagnosing their financial health and issues; it would be malpractice.

What’s the one thing about you that will surprise most people?

I’m actually an introvert – the veneer beneath the veneer. I want to go back to my little corner, do my own things, because I’m a thinker.

A lot of people think that, because I used to be in human resources, I must be extroverted, but I’m an introvert. Still, I’m a people person. People need someone to talk to and I want to be there to listen to them. When you take an interest in people’s lives and health, that enthusiasm shows. It’s not a matter of being introverted or extroverted, enthusiasm comes from within.

Editor’s note: Get to know the full Thought Leaders community here.

Photography by Sayher Heffernan
Styling by Wei Lun Tok
Hair & Makeup by Benedict Choo
Credit: MAC Cosmetics