After working as an insurance agent for one company since 1990, Tony Tong Heung-wing decided that it was time to gather more in-depth knowledge about money matters to boost his competitiveness in the industry. He signed up for the professional diploma in personal financial planning at the Open University's Li Ka Shing Institute of Professional and Continuing Education (LiPACE) in 2001, and graduated a year ago. Following a programme of planning in financial, investment, insurance, retirement and tax matters, Mr Tong says his new knowledge will enhance his professionalism and hopefully lead to better-served clients and more business opportunities. He says this is already proving true, with sales in the fourth quarter of last year and the first two months of this year rising by about 30 per cent as a result of referrals and repeat purchases by existing clients. He believes this is because his customers have more confidence in him. The Asian crisis and the bursting of the information technology bubble led to more cautious investors, he says, and in 1999 he realised the industry was facing a new challenge. As the industry realised it needed to move from a hard-sell culture to one that was more professional and based on a customer-centred approach, continuing education became increasingly important. Mr Tong says with the implementation of the Insurance Qualifying Assurance Scheme and the Mandatory Provident Fund in 2000, most insurance agents felt it would be difficult to survive unless they could pass the exams conducted by the Vocational Training Council and fulfil the requirements of continuous professional development in the future. The professional diploma was a requirement set by the Institute of Financial Planners of Hong Kong before Mr Tong could go on to pursue the Certified Financial Planner Certification (CFP) exam. He is now one of just under 1,000 CFP licensees in Hong Kong.