The local insurance industry's workforce has risen 36.1 per cent in the past two years, according to a bi-annual industry survey. The survey, by the Government-run Vocational Training Council (VTC), was carried out earlier this year and involved the 626 firms which have insurance or related businesses, including insurers, banks and fund management companies. The total insurance industry workforce reached 48,339 at the end of last year, according to the survey, representing about 1.6 per cent of Hong Kong's three million workforce. In 1997 the figure was 35,523. VTC centre director Susanna Chan said the rise in industry manpower was a result of the Asian financial turmoil and the proposed Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) to be launched in December. 'The local economic downturn after the 1997 Asian financial turmoil has forced many industries to trim their staff numbers,' Ms Chan said. 'This led to many employees being forced to leave their own industries and join the insurance industry which has been expanding in the past two years.' Insurance companies and banks have hired more people to prepare for the sales and administration of MPF plans. The MPF will cover the 300,000 companies which do not have pension plans for their 2.2 million employees. The 21 MPF providers, mainly life insurers or insurance subsidiaries of banks, were allowed to start selling the schemes from February. The VTC survey showed that 73.5 per cent of the insurance workforce worked in the life insurance sector, with the rest employed in the general sector. Life insurance employees - including back-office workers, actuaries, and claims managers - rose by 77.5 per cent over 1997 to reach 4,856 at the end of last year. Life insurance agents - who are insurers' salespeople - also rose 47 per cent to 29,042. The number of general insurance employees stood at 6,868 at the end of last year, up 23.9 per cent over 1997. General insurance agents, however, were down 23.4 per cent from 1997 to 4,775 at the end of last year. Ms Chan said the survey showed that employers did not expect to see more strong growth in staff in the near future. General insurers expect to add a total of 164 employees and 481 agents in the next 12 months, while life insurers expect to see 1,955 agents and 323 employees join the sector. 'The insurers had enough expansion in the past two years to prepare their manpower for the MPF business. They do not need to add more in the near future,' Ms Chan said. The smaller number was also a result of the new examination system introduced by the Government in January, she added. The examination system requires anyone who wants to be an insurance agent to pass an examination, lifting entry requirements to the industry.