MANY Hong Kong companies lack the financial information systems necessary to retain a competitive edge, according to a new survey by Coopers & Lybrand. Managing director Robert Cochrane said the survey of 150 top companies in the territory, listed both in Hong Kong and overseas, found many still adopted a time-consuming, labour-intensive approach to preparing financial information. 'Hong Kong is on the verge of recognising the need to rebuild its information infrastructure, especially the companies that have expanded so rapidly in the past 10 years,' he said. Bodil Wyness, a senior consultant with the firm, said many companies lacked vital information about their own businesses. She said only 58 per cent of the responding companies tracked product profitability, and only 39 per cent generated information about customer profitability. Mr Cochrane said it was not clear why so many local companies failed to invest more in information systems. Some experts suggested that fear about the 1997 transition had made some businesses wary about making large investments now. Mr Cochrane said this was a foolish idea. 'You can't wait for a political event to make these changes,' Mr Cochrane said. 'Either you support your business or you don't,' he said. One area with room for improvement was automation. The survey showed automation of cost allocations in the general ledger was less than 15 per cent, compared with more than 50 per cent in the UK. Only 10 per cent of respondents had fully automated group reporting. Upgrading equipment was also important, as more than 50 per cent of the companies had systems more than five years old.