With 30 insurance agents to manage, an endless number of clients to meet and his first child on its way, life is a hectic balancing act of work, friends and family for James Wong. But the Prudential Assurance branch manager wouldn't have it any other way. Monday ANTICIPATING the usual early morning crawl through the Eastern Harbour Tunnel we leave for work early. Normally it takes about 45 minutes to drive from our flat in Heng Fa Chuen to the Prudential office in Chatham Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. I drop my wife, Judy, off at Kowloon Bay on the way. As a branch manager for Prudential, I have a week packed with client meetings, management meetings and training sessions for my 30-strong group of agents. I also have a number of social and family engagements and a couple of sports matches. Life is a hectic balancing act of work, friends and family, but I wouldn't have it any other way. The first hour of the day is spent sharing experiences with my new agents, who are still in their initial contract year, before we all crowd into the training room. I remind the agents in my group - seven of whom are managers - of the approaching production deadline, the quarterly measurement of each agent's performance based on submission of case reports and policies. The end-of-the-month social evening is coming up too, when we celebrate agents' birthdays, announce group results - each of us hoping to be a member of the best performing team - and award a prize to our ''agent of the month''. At about 1 pm I dash off for a quick bite at a Chinese restaurant with two colleagues. In the afternoon, we split into smaller groups, each manager reviewing workloads with his direct agents individually. I have three to see. I want to make sure they understand the new incentive targets and the amount of work needed to meet them. I leave about 7 pm to pick up my wife, Judy. We are having dinner with my brother, who lives near us, as we have done frequently since Judy became pregnant. He has a Filipino maid, Anna, who is an excellent cook. Tuesday The day starts with training sessions for new agents run by the managers. As branch manager, I am responsible for overseeing the whole programme. Today, we are role playing. Understanding our clients and striving to meet their needs is a crucial part of our job. While Hongkong is probably a more mature financial services market than other parts of Asia, there is still a lot of confusion as to the value and benefit of insurance and the role of the agent. To be honest, I find it distressing that, as agents, we are still regarded with so much suspicion in Hongkong - seen as self-serving money grabbers just out to make a fast buck. Not only has the insurance industry changed dramatically in recent years but the concept of financial planning is being more readily accepted as a way of life. Our approach to addressing people's fears and hesitations about insurance is to understand, not oppose or ridicule. They are not obliged to buy our policies. If they have a problem, we help them solve it. I catch up on some paperwork for the rest of the morning, then lunch with a longstanding client. She has some very interesting ideas about provident funds from the user's perspective and we have a lively discussion over pasta. After taking Judy home, I join one of my managers for a recruiting seminar for final-year students at the University of Hongkong, where I graduated in 1985. More than 45 per cent of our agents are college or university graduates. We start at 10 pm and the students ask so many questions I don't leave for home until after midnight. Wednesday I like to be in the office by 8.15 am everyday to give me some time to plan my schedule before the day begins, as usual, with a training session at 9 am. Mid-morning there is the regular senior managers' meeting. This is our standard monthly business meeting, where all the branch managers take it in turns to report on the previous month's new-business figures. We have just turned in record new-business figures for 1992 but an ambitious five-year business plan means there is no room to rest on our laurels. Lunch is with another client, a fire station officer. He listens intently to my financial planning suggestions for his family. He likes what he hears and agrees to take up a package of policies comprising both insurance cover and investment planning elements. He asks me if I can arrange a seminar at his fire station on the new civil service benefits scheme. I am delighted to oblige. From 2.30 pm, I take part in our ongoing customer-care programme designed to help us put our company vision - ''to be the best'' - more effectively into practice. Later, having made my way through a pile of paperwork, I collect Judy for dinner with friends who have recently become parents. We are hoping to pick up a few tips. Thursday Individual discussions between agents and their managers kick-off every Thursday morning. The purpose is to review the week's activity so far and address any concerns. I spend the rest of the morning catching up on paperwork before lunching with a police inspector, who already has a comprehensive policy with us but wants to talk about any new plans we have and where additional insurance might be required. After lunch it's time for the bi-monthly meeting for all managers. The main issue is recruitment. We are still not attracting enough recruits into an industry that offers a challenge and good earnings. We have found that people regard insurance more as a form of protection against hard times, rather than as an investment or a way of planning for a more secure future. We decide to emphasise more the range of products and services we provide as a way of making potential recruits more comfortable with the role of the insurance agent in people's lives. I leave early to attend a committee meeting of the Life Underwriters' Association of Hongkong, which has more than 2,000 members in the territory. This is an internationally-recognised industry association. Its main aim is to promote a positive image of life underwriters and make sure they maintain high professional standards. This evening the focus is training, followed by discussion of complaints (enquiries) received from the public and how we can respond to them. Finally, we review progress of the Hongkong annual convention, scheduled for August. Friday My task this morning is ''pre-contract training'' for the benefit of a potential recruit who is interested in joining our industry. The lady I will be meeting is a university graduate currently working for the civil service. She is seeking a career change and feels being an agent with Prudential could give her greater independence and better prospects. Her questions after the session show she is strongly motivated. I am pleased to say she decides to join us. I lunch with the head of a law practice in Admiralty. His firm has just bought a provident scheme from Prudential. Following our lunch, I make a presentation to the law firm's staff of 20 to demonstrate how our scheme works, its advantages and costs, and answer their questions. I spend the afternoon with a young graduate from the Baptist College who is considering coming into the industry. He seems a bright prospect and I hope he will join us. He says he is interested and we need to set up a further appointment in order to give him more information. Yet more training this evening. Judy will have to brave the MTR because I will accompany one of our new agents to observe him conducting a ''live'' interview. I like this kind of joint field work because it means I can closely observe my agents in action. The client is a technician who lives at Kowloon Bay and wants to invest in some long-term security for his children. Saturday This morning, we have three scheduled training sessions. We start with public speaking. Every new agent is given an unrehearsed topic on which he or she must speak for at least 15 minutes without drying up. This ordeal is followed by product training. Each manager leads a small group in analysing the advantages and strengths of both our own product and those of our competitors. It is very important that our agents should really understand what is available on the market and the benefits of our own comprehensive range of products so they can more effectively help our clients plan for their financial future. The final training session is conducted by me. Targeted at managers it is the presentation of our industry as a career attraction to groups of prospective recruits. It's late. As I drive slowly past the teeming Saturday afternoon crowds along Nathan Road, I reflect, not for the first time, that the person who benefits most from all aspects of our training sessions is me! I'm still learning something new every day about being a good agency manager, and I've still got plenty left to learn.