These days, a typical insurance company offers much more than traditional general or life insurance cover. Investors are also offered a range of investment-linked insurance products designed to combine the benefits of insurance protection with the upside potential of investment in a range of markets. For many customers, the insurance coverage contained in their investment-linked product might be their main insurance, while for others it might be considered a supplement. A leading factor in the success of investment-linked insurance products is that, unlike traditional life insurance, these give the policyholder a choice in the way the money is invested, typically in a range of funds managed within the insurance company's group. As the name suggests, investment-linked products are designed around an insurance and investment theme. They can range from an instrument primarily offering insurance cover to an investment vehicle with a thin layer of insurance. Responding to demand from the public for regular savings vehicles, many insurers offer investment-linked products with premiums that can be paid monthly. These have proved highly popular with investors. Warren Lee, chief operating officer of AXA China Region Insurance, said Hong Kong's Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) had contributed to the growth in popularity of investment-linked products. 'The MPF has been very helpful in promoting education about investment. The market is evolving toward the savings side of the products,' he said. There is some debate over the appropriate level of stock market exposure an investor saving for retirement should have. But, in general, someone far from retirement age can afford a higher level of risk. Once savers near retirement age, they are often advised to have proportionally more of their funds invested in safer, but lower-return, bonds and cash. The reason is retirement age usually triggers a payout, which means gains and losses will be realised. A last- minute stock market fall could wipe out years of previous capital gains. On the other hand, some advisers warn that investors risk missing out on rich returns over the long term by having too little in the stock markets, which outperform other investments over many years. Robert Knight, chief executive of Standard Life Asia, said demand in Hong Kong for insurance, like that in the rest of the world, changed with age. 'Young people, depending on whether they are married or not, tended to need lots of life insurance. The good thing is that life insurance for young people is much cheaper. Older people look more at topping up their pensions. Another difference is that older people tend to have more capital.' He warned that investment commissions and other fees charged by insurance companies and fund managers could lead to savers missing out on high returns. A transparent, simple fee structure was made easier to deliver with investment-linked insurance products, he said. This transparency ought to form part of the insurance industry's 'professional attitude' toward long-term investment products. He said that potential customers of investment-linked products should be made aware of all the charges and all potential risks they assumed by buying them. At the same time, investment-linked products were not suited to all savers; some might be more interested in a pure insurance product, for example.