WITHIN hours of the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) having received its final thumbs-up in the provisional legislature on Wednesday, insurance agents were peddling pension products, calling potential clients at home that same evening. 'They're manning the phones already,' said a pension-industry professional who received a sales pitch on Wednesday night. He warned consumers to be wary because agents might be tempted to blur the terms under which some existing pension schemes are exempt from MPF. In fact, the rule is simple: only schemes that were in existence on October 15, 1995, and registered under the Occupational Retirement Schemes Ordinance are eligible for exemption. Nicholas Crouch, Manulife (International)'s vice-president of pension services, said his agents - one of whom made the call to the pension professional - were trained to explain clearly that any provident-fund product being sold now would not get exemption under MPF. But he defended his agents' astuteness in playing on news coverage of Wednesday's MPF vote to generate interest in pension products. 'I think agents would take the opportunity to talk to prospects about provident funds in light of the passing of the legislation,' he said. 'As long as they're clear in terms of what they're offering, I think that is a reasonable initiative.' Meanwhile, agents - whose pension-product sales have been in limbo for years as the industry, the Government and legislators wrangled over the MPF's fine points - are understandably restive. Even with passage of the final implementing legislation, it will be a long time before they will have MPF-compatible insurance products to sell. Concern about the potential mis-selling of pensions has been running so high - and there have been media reports of companies claiming their products are MPF-approved - that Pamela Tan Kim Mai-wah, the director of the Government's MPF Office, issued a pointed statement in late February, saying there was no such thing as a 'Government-approved' MPF scheme. 'Companies who claim that their MPF schemes have already been approved by the Government or that their products will meet the requirements stipulated under the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Ordinance are obviously misleading,' she said. Fund managers and pension providers intend to use the months between now and early next year, when the MPF is likely to be implemented, to plan intensive education campaigns for employers and employees, teaching them how to choose the fund or funds appropriate for their circumstances. Younger people, because they have a long time to ride out volatility and need to beat inflation throughout that period, are usually advised to put a relatively large portion of their retirement savings into equities. Historically, stocks have produced a higher long-term return than other types of investments. On the other hand, those who are closer to retirement are usually encouraged to put a relatively larger portion of their portfolios into bonds and other conservative investments, keeping more of their nest eggs safe from potential stock-market downturns. Mark Konyn, a director of Dresdner RCM Global Investors Asia, said that employees would probably not be given many fund choices in the early years of the MPF, a fact that would feed into employees' initial tendency to be conservative, perhaps overly so, when choosing how to invest their pension monies. 'Most [plans] will start in a very simplistic way. The employer will be making the decision of a service provider, not the individual,' he said. 'Unless [the employees] have a lot of information, the natural tendency will be to be quite conservative and short-term.' Peter Lord, the chairman of the Investment Funds Association, said the group would be stepping up its education campaign in the coming year but would target it at bankers, insurers and other pension professionals who would be helping employers set up their MPF programmes.