REGULAR savings plans will play a big role in expanding the unit trust market in Hong Kong, according to Christopher Ryan, managing director of HSBC Investment Funds Hong Kong. Mr Ryan said changing demographics included a growing white-collar population because of the ongoing shift of the economy towards the service sector and a growing role for women in long-term financial decision-making. 'Many more Hong Kong people will find their way into unit trusts via savings plans because they are an easy way to save,' he said. 'The shifts in demographics lead us to believe this is a winner. We have thousands of them running and they are gaining broad acceptance. 'We think they should have a higher profile than they have got because they are extremely effective at accumulating assets.' HSBC's savings plan is the HSBC Monthly Investment Plan (MIP) which has a minimum initial investment of $5,000 followed by minimum monthly contributions of $800 per fund. The contributions have to be auto-paid into the HSBC unit trusts. The choice of funds depends on whether the client is saving for a specific purpose, such as a holiday, children's education, or retirement and, of course, on appetite for risk. However, Mr Ryan said clients appreciated the trade-off between risk and reward and realised that exposure to Asian stock markets was the most effective way to beat local inflation in the long term. 'People are increasingly taking a long-term view of their savings. You are dealing with an educated population and there is a tendency to under-rate how much the public understands about aspects of risk and investment,' he said. 'We advise people not to try to time their entry to markets. They should pick a fund, or funds they are comfortable with. The MIP is really suited to people with medium to long-term savings objectives.' The two most popular unit trusts among MIP investors are the Asian Equity Fund and International Managed Equity Fund. 'There are also quite a few going into the Asian Bond Fund, which is a good place for conservative investors. It is yielding about 10.5 per cent.' According to HSBC, an initial investment of $5,000 paid into the Asian Equity Fund in 1986, followed by monthly contributions of $800 would have grown to $342,212 by May 1 this year. The total investment would have been $100,200. The HSBC Asian Equity Fund invests in the Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia stock markets. Mr Ryan said it was an excellent way of gaining exposure to Asian growth without the problem of timing which particular market to be in. One reason for the slow take-up of unit trusts in Hong Kong has been a reliance on direct property investment as an inflation hedge. Mr Ryan said that while property would remain a key investment, the big gains that had been made over the past 15 years would not be available in the future. Investing in HSBC's MIP can be done at any Hongkong Bank, or at the HSBC Asset Management Investment Centre at Citibank Tower.