WITH A favourable sentiment for investment continuing over from past year, the banking and finance sector foresees an increased need for manpower to capture the investment market, which is far from saturated. Industry players say there are more people in Hong Kong who want to save up for their retirement and their children's education by investing in different products, rather than just relying on the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF). Traditional banks and insurance companies are widening their range of products to cater for the varying needs of individual customers. Potential recruits being sought by these organisations are therefore mostly people with sales skills and knowledge of products such as funds and insurance. Tighter corporate governance has also led to a rising demand for professional accountants and auditors to work in top investment banks. Here is what the experts are saying: 'Good prospects' 'The banking and finance sector, one of Hong Kong's core industries, has witnessed fast growth, although it has experienced great changes in recent years,' said HSBC chief economist for Greater China, George Leung. 'Banks are now relying more on non-interest-based products. This has led to a change in the type of people they need to work for them.' Mr Leung said some banks had transferred some back-office functions to lower-cost areas, such as the mainland, so there was no obvious demand for clerical and administrative positions in Hong Kong. However, there is a demand for frontline sales staff marketing different investment products. 'Overall, the industry has good prospects. There is a growing need for financial planning services. 'In pensions, for example, Hong Kong is still lagging behind countries in Europe and the United States,' Mr Leung said. 'mainland demand' Managing director of Michael Page International, Greater China, Dan Chavasse, said there had been no shortage of posts in such areas as compliance, regulatory, derivatives and private equity, and Hong Kong had an outstanding knowledge-based candidate pool built up over the past 25 years to meet the demand. But growth in manpower would depend on how the global economy developed. Mr Chavasse said a lack of confidence had been frustrating the sector for a few years before 2004. 'What every business needs is certainty. If the short to medium term looks comfortable and there appears to be a bright horizon, then companies would invest in a whole variety of different areas.' He said there was big demand in the mainland for people with overseas banking and finance experience to take up managerial positions, and the situation was likely to continue for another five to 10 years. 'That means there are opportunities for Asian expats - people from Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong - to go to the mainland and have very rewarding careers.' 'greater confidence' Headhunting firm Ambition Careers and Recruitment, which targets accounting and auditing professionals for major investment banks, found that the candidate pool for those positions in Hong Kong was not big enough to meet the demand. 'In general, Hong Kong still doesn't have the talent pool progressing through the market. Outside the Big Four professional firms, you don't really have any good graduate training programmes for accountants, and therefore, you don't have the talent pool coming online in the middle level,' said Guy Day, managing director at Ambition. Mr Day said last year was more a seller's market within the banking world. There were more jobs than in the previous year - probably double compared with 2003. 'The more buoyant economy has generated confidence and got people investing again. There were many more activities in the financial market.' 'good climate' CMG Asia, a member of the Commonwealth Bank Group in Australia, also reported good results last year. Julia Wong, director of sales for CMG Asia, attributed this to the favourable investment climate caused by factors including low interest rates, low market penetration - for every 100 people in Hong Kong there are 84 insurance policies compared with 179 in Singapore - the ageing population and people wanting more protection both for themselves and for family members. Ms Wong said people needed different investment products at different stages of their lives, and products in two areas, retirement and education, were particularly in demand last year. The company has also worked with the Chinese University of Hong Kong to train new consultants. Among the new recruits taken on last year, about 30 per cent were university graduates, 40 per cent had banking and finance experience and 40 per cent had work experience of more than 10 years. Meanwhile, top investment banks are looking for another type of back-office staff - accounting and auditing professionals - inspired by tighter regulations in corporate governance in the US. 'taking initiatives' Convoy Financial Services is an independent financial adviser that has been launching recruitment campaigns for its growing team of financial consultants. The company, which transformed from a general insurance broker to a financial adviser in 1998, experienced a good 2004. 'Last year people made decisions about their financial plans which had been postponed by negative factors such as Sars,' said Convoy chief executive Quincy Wong. 'The investment market the world over has been very good.' The number of consultants in the company has jumped from less than 20 to more than 400 in six years. Mr Wong said the industry would continue to strengthen in Hong Kong because the city was an important financial centre with refined legal and regulatory systems. 'Financial planning is now part of many peoples' lives in Hong Kong. 'Apart from the MPF launched by the government, the commercial sector has taken initiatives to expand the market.'