While many banks may have plans to axe staff, the outlook is not gloomy for all parts of the financial industry. The investment fund sector is still in expansion mode as new fund houses and products emerge. The number of authorised collective investment schemes - mutual funds, real estate investment trusts, investment-linked products and funds under the Mandatory Provident Fund - reached 2,513 at the end of March, Securities and Futures Commission figures show. That was marginally higher than the 2,501 at the end of last year, though it is lower than the 2,594 in March last year. The investment unit of HSBC and the Bank of East Asia each introduced new funds last week. An increase in the number of people licensed by the SFC, including brokers, fund managers and financial advisers, also shows some investment firms are hiring. They totalled 39,706 at the end of March, up 2.63 per cent from 38,688 in March last year. The number of licences has nearly doubled in a decade. At the end of 2003, there were only 20,201 people licensed by the SFC. Among the newcomers are subsidiaries of banks that want to expand in the fund business, such as Bank of East Asia, Bank of China (Hong Kong) and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. Some Western pension funds are also expanding in Hong Kong and the rest of Asia as a hedge against the euro-zone crisis and the economic slowdown in the United States. Mark Machin, former co-head of Asian investment banking at Goldman Sachs, joined the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board as president of its Asia-Pacific unit. The board invests globally the funds of Canada's national pension plan on behalf of 18 million contributors. Headquartered in Toronto and with offices in London and Hong Kong, it is one of the largest pension funds in the world, with total assets of more than US$153 billion. Another newcomer is Cathay Conning Asset Management (CCAM), which secured an SFC licence recently and appointed veteran fund manager Mark Konyn as its chief executive to build the business from scratch. The company is co-owned by Taiwanese financial firm Cathay Financial Holding and US-based fund house Conning. Conning specialises in investing for insurance companies and has US$88 billion under management and Cathay has US$166 billion in total assets. CCAM is targeting insurance companies and other institutional investors, including sovereign wealth funds, corporates, endowments and pension investors. Konyn has worked in Hong Kong for more than 22 years, including 15 years at RCM, a subsidiary of Allianz Global Investors. He was the Asia-Pacific chief executive when he left in January. The British academic turned fund manager is among the most outspoken supporters of the MPF retirement scheme, although at times he has been critical of its plans for development. For bankers who face the axe, the fund houses next door may offer opportunities.