WHILE veritable waves of regulation have swept through the personal financial services industries of many countries in recent years, barely a ripple has reached Hongkong's shores. The inevitable outcome is a classic case of caveat emptor for investors seeking independent financial advice, warns Mr Barry Lea, regional director of financial services and marketing at Hill Samuel. Anyone in Hongkong can call themselves an insurance agent, insurance broker, financial adviser, or even financial consultant. They can advise on and sell many insurance products, without any requirement for licensing or registration. Even the question of independence is a vexing issue. A number of Hongkong-based companies holding themselves out to be independent financial advisers (IFA) are wholly-owned arms of insurance companies. A potential for bias in recommendations of their products can result. But an even more insidious tie arises through simple greed in the form of promoting products paying the maximum commissions and commission overrides linked to business volume. Where the sales person's remuneration is dependent upon or substantially linked to results, human nature must not be underestimated. There are numerous other considerations when choosing an IFA, including the pedigree, size and strength of the organisation and the training and experience of advisers. Treat with caution those itinerant sales persons with no permanent, local presence or using an office as little more than a mailing address. Having made the choice, you would be wise to heed the advice provided by the UK Securities and Investment Board. Be wary if: Your adviser offers a rate of return for any investments you make which seems higher than anyone else. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. He/she invites you to put money into a scheme which he/she cannot explain, is not supported by any documentation and which you have never heard of. He/she advises you to cash in all or some of your investments and give the money to him/her to invest, particularly if they are long-term such as life assurance where you could lose financially. He/she advises you to put all your money in one investment. Some investments such as life assurance and unit trusts are made up from a spread of investments. Unless one of these is involved, a fairly small amount of money is involved, or you don't mind losing the lot, this is bad advice. You should spread your risk. He/she is plausible and charming but you are not quite sure what exactly would be happening to your money. The investment is one which must be taken advantage of immediately. Your adviser offers a high ''guaranteed'' rate of return. Realise a guarantee is only as good as the person who gives the guarantees: any compensation scheme will not pay out guarantees. With most investments you should receive regular reports as to how your investment is doing. Check at the beginning if this is to be the case. If the firm is vague, check with its regulator. So watch out if. . . You do not hear anything about your investments, or your investments seem to be doing very well when there is an economic slump. Your adviser keeps suggesting you sell your investments and buy new ones. Usually the adviser either gets a commission or makes a charge for each transaction.