ESTIMATES indicate that there are more than 10,000 licensed brokers in Hong Kong selling a wide variety of investment products, but many of them have no academic background in financial subjects and may not possess professional qualifications. The Institute of Financial Planners of Hong Kong (IFPHK) is addressing this issue by promoting a recognised industry standard for practitioners and, at the same time, is aiming to make the investing public fully aware of what to expect from any professional adviser. The institute introduced the Certified Financial PlannerCM (CFMCM) certification in Hong Kong in 2000 to provide comprehensive training in all aspects of the industry and to upgrade standards overall. The certification process is based on education, examinations, experience and ethics. Successful candidates obtain both an academic diploma and a professional qualification. 'Education is the foundation of everything, so we require candidates to take six university-level courses which cover all the main financial planning subjects,' said Lynn Pi, the IFPHK's executive director for certification. The first five modules deal with the foundations of the financial planning process, insurance, investments, taxation, as well as employee benefits and estate planning. The sixth module includes everything in a case study for which students must put together an integrated plan suitable for a possible client. Courses are offered by the approved education providers and are taught in the evening or on Saturdays. Usually, about 40 hours of classroom study are required per unit and the IFPHK recommends that candidates take modules in sequence and no more than two per semester, especially if they are also working full time. Some exemptions may be granted for people whose degree or professional background clearly makes certain courses unnecessary. Class sizes are mostly between 40 and 50 students and there are three intakes per year. 'We set guidelines regarding the qualifications for instructors, but they are appointed by the universities,' said Dr Pi. 'They will all have relevant practical and teaching experience in the field.' The universities handle applications directly and also determine fees, which are on average $4,000 per course. Since each institution is awarding its own diploma in financial planning, it will set its own entry and attendance requirements. At present, no maximum time limit is set for completion of the educational programme. 'The universities are looking to admit rather than limit applicants and do not select based on age, work experience or previous studies,' said Dr Pi. That means a class may include seasoned professionals who are required by their employers to obtain formal qualifications, trainees just starting out, people contemplating a career switch and undergraduates looking to get ahead. There were about 2,500 enrolments for module one last year and that number is confidently expected to rise. 'Typically, the majority of the professionals taking the academic courses or sitting the CFP exam work as frontline insurance agents, tax consultants, customer relationship managers in banks or financial planners,' said Dr Pi. 'However, we also want to encourage people who may, for example, be in training roles or designing software for finance companies to consider how they could benefit.'