THE HONG KONG arm of Zurich, the global insurance giant, has introduced a new agency management model for its financial advisory unit. The new model involves certain structural changes and a shift in focus, but makes it easier to provide customers with goal-based financial planning. The new model draws on examples of best practices from the insurance and banking sectors and one of its main aims is to attract and retain the best people in the industry. It will do this by training financial advisers systematically and then giving them a clear career path. High-achievers will enjoy substantial rewards and be eligible to join a new, attractive profit-sharing scheme. According to Denny Chan, director of life business at Zurich Insurance Group (Hong Kong), the number of insurance sales agents in the local market fell from 50,000 in 1999 to about 27,000 last year. Even so, new individual life policies in the Hong Kong market have more than doubled in the past six years. Seeing this trend, the company pioneered an in-house partnership concept, which allows managers to focus more on agency functions and specialist areas. There is less multitasking than under the traditional model, and more accountability and greater productivity. Mr Chan said that the model had ushered in a new sense of partnership between agents and the company. Under the new arrangement, advisers can advance to become either management partners or business partners. The former manage teams and share responsibility for developing corporate initiatives. Those who achieve performance targets and show outstanding professionalism can become partners. The training programme is divided into four phases, each with a different focus and nomenclature. It starts with a three-month talent centre, progresses to the year-long development stage and then moves on to aspects of professional growth for the next 18 months. The fourth phase involves courses for continuous development under the achiever centre. Recruits are taught the fundamentals of financial planning and about the need to have the right attitude to business. Subsequent training will help develop the required competencies and technical skills. The staff can then focus on areas that interest them. The new profit-sharing scheme will link bonuses to a range of measures, including sales performance, successful cost control and efforts to develop new business. The earlier, more traditional, agency compensation scheme was based solely on premiums generated. Shirley Chan of Zurich's corporate communications department said the company welcomed people interested in a career in the insurance or financial planning industry.