The Mandatory Provident Fund Scheme gives Hong Kong a pivotal role in developing Asia's retirement savings industry and helps underpin its position as Asia's leading fund-management centre, claims Invesco Global vice-chairman and chief executive Michael Benson. 'The introduction of the MPF is highly significant and it is likely to be mirrored in other parts of Asia, not least China,' Mr Benson told a British Chamber of Commerce lunch last week. Hong Kong's retirement scheme allows individuals to decide where to invest their retirement savings, rather than having the government do it for them. 'The plain fact of the matter is that governments around the world are not going to be able to support people in their retirement,' Mr Benson said. 'The burden of the old-style defined contribution systems are becoming too heavy for companies to bear . . . there is an absolutely irreversible shift towards defined contributions which essentially puts the onus on to the individual to provide for their pension.' The MPF offered opportunities for fund management companies in Hong Kong, but there were costs involved. Most importantly, funds needed to be allocated towards educating investors about long-term investment. 'Saving for retirement has to become a way of life. For this to work, there has to be a partnership between governments, the education authorities and the [financial industry]. They all have to be prepared to spend time and money in the process of education as never before. This education has to be ongoing and up to university level and beyond,' Mr Benson said. He hoped Hong Kong authorities would not be tempted to over-regulate the MPF system, although adjustments were likely as the system matured. Authorities in Singapore were considering making the state-controlled Central Provident Fund more flexible. In Chile, the system had been recently adjusted to allow a greater percentage of contributions to be invested in foreign markets. Looking forward, Mr Benson said investors needed to lower their expectations as the days of double-digit returns were over in the short term. The world was in one of the 'nastiest bear markets ever experienced', a reaction to a protracted bull run, and the financial industry had a responsibility to help restore investors' confidence. 'We are going to go back to a period of slower, more sustainable growth, I hope with less volatility because volatility is one of the things which unquestionably concerns investors,' he said. 'If we get a 7 per cent to 8 per cent return [a year] out of the stock markets that is a perfectly reasonable and sustainable level of growth.'