A leading insurance company executive has criticised the Government's decision to introduce a training and examination regime for salesmen, saying it will restrict the industry's growth. The Government argues the change is needed to ensure the quality of insurance agents. ING Life chief executive Augustus Yuen Moon-hing believes the change will make it difficult for insurance companies to hire salesmen, which will hurt companies' bottom lines. He said some companies had already lost agents, many of whom have quit the industry rather than take the examinations. The number of insurance agents dropped 16 per cent in the first half of this year, after doubling from 25,000 to 50,000 between 1995 and the end of last year. 'This has forced some insurance companies to pay a lot of money to poach agents from other insurers. This has created a lot of problems in the industry,' he said. Agents must pass the examination, administered by the Insurance Authority, by the end of the year or leave the industry. From January, new agents must pass the test before they can practice. In addition, those who have passed the examination must spend at least 30 hours a year attending refresher courses. Agents who fail to fulfil this requirement will be unable to renew their registrations. Mr Yuen said the regime was too harsh. 'It is a good move for the Government to introduce examinations and training programmes to help upgrade the professionalism of insurance agents,' he said. 'But I wonder if the new requirements might have gone too far.' The examinations comprise five papers: principal knowledge in insurance, life insurance, general insurance, Mandatory Provident Fund and investment products. However, Mr Yuen said anyone passing the principal-knowledge test alone should have enough knowledge to stay in the industry. Thirty hours of training was too much, he said, pointing out that the Securities and Futures Commission required brokers, fund managers and investment advisers to receive only five hours of training a year. 'I don't see why insurance agents need more training than securities brokers,' he said. The Government should consider relaxing the new rules to allow insurance companies to recruit agents more easily, which would help to reduce Hong Kong's unemployment. Insurance Commissioner Benjamin Tang Kwok-bun said the authority had no intention to relax the new requirements. 'The Government has an obligation to protect the interests of policyholders,' he said. 'It is very important to have the examination and training requirement in place to ensure the quality of insurance agents.' He said the SFC was reviewing its training requirements, which might result in an increased training period.