Though the focus of public attention may have been on insurance companies, it was always clear that banks would play an important role in establishing Hong Kong's Mandatory Provident Fund. That is not to detract from other source providers, but to highlight the fact that banks know their customers' needs, and with relationships and personal trust are in a strong position to tailor and streamline MPF schemes to meet individuals' and companies' requirements. How successful will any bank be in the MPF provider stakes? That depends on the strength of bank-customer relationships - and each has a different strategy. Belgian Bank's approach is a continuation of its relationship philosophy. Our strategy is to build on banking relationships and offer cus tomers straightforward products with tailored solutions. Being part of Fortis, a major European banking and financial services group, is also important, as is the strength of our MPF partners, AIA and Jardine Fleming. Banks have discovered that the key to success is to increase customer confidence and to recognise that customers face a variety of complications - the successful banks will be those that not only have the necessary attributes but also offer the best solutions. Do retail customers have a part to play in developing an MPF solution? In the initial stages, Hong Kong's MPF system is not directly impacted by the consumer, with employees approached and informed about schemes through their employer. But there is no doubt that individual members will play an important role as time goes on. Then, fund performance and account accessibility will become increasingly important and increasingly appraised elements in the MPF equation. Branch networks will be a significant interface with the consumer, but they are just one of multiple MPF channels which already include telephone hotline and Internet access. The MPF is a major development affecting Hong Kong's banking sector, involving nearly all their customers. It also represents a truly major business opportunity. While many insurance companies are scrambling to replace existing retirement scheme business, for banks this is a new dawn - and a new market. The banking sector, it would seem, is approaching this prospect with vigour. Most banks, like our own, have diverse corporate customer bases made up of companies from different sectors, of different sizes and with vastly different business and financial needs. What banks have to ensure is that, firstly, they have the right systems in place to identify their clients' needs. Their analysis then needs to uncover the right solution, which in turn needs to match an existing product. It's a complex process but one for which banks and their operation systems are well suited. How have banks approached the task of MPF provision and meeting customer needs? Belgian Bank began its planning in early 1998 with a study submitted to our management committee. Like many banks, we decided that to develop an MPF administration system of our own would not be worthwhile in terms of the required investment and relevance to core businesses. We began to appraise potential joint venture partners and launched a customer survey to establish the decision- making criteria. The survey results were clear in revealing our customers' thinking. Yes, they were interested in MPF scheme proposals from the bank, citing their banking relationships as being reliable and caring. Yes, a wide choice of funds, sound investment per formance, financial strength, and competitive administration charges were also important. But the key was stability: They needed a provider that was committed to Hong Kong and committed to the MPF. The survey process established that finding the right strategic partners was essential to success, while customers' declared preferences enabled us to choose them with confidence. Hong Kong's banks have worked hard to establish MPF-related structural support, in keeping with a banking relationship approach. At Belgian Bank, our staff have been trained to offer the right advice and all our salespeople have completed courses to obtain Government MPF licences. For customers, seminars were held in conjunction with our partners and company visits were made. At all times we were quizzed about performance, investment returns, monetary issues and the different funds in the scheme, and on our commitment to being an MPF scheme provider. We have also developed administrative support for employers, including advising on their computer hardware platforms and providing free software to run with their Belgian Bank payroll systems. Now, every customer knows that the bank can implement MPF calculations on their payroll accounts without error and that the software will generate employee advice notes - all helping to relieve the MPF administrative burden on SMEs. For Belgian Bank, the response to our MPF scheme has been very positive, and more than half our corporate customers are in dialogue with us. Clarence Cheung is the general manager of the Commercial Belgian Bank. He has more than 20 years experience in the field, specialising in commercial banking. In his current position, Mr Cheung oversees the bank's activities in commercial and consumer banking. He holds Bachelor of Science and Master of Business Administration degrees from the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University of Hong Kong respectively.