AS WEALTH management and financial planning becomes increasingly competitive in Hong Kong, service providers are always on the lookout to offer their customers alternative investment solutions. Recent options that can be added to an investment portfolio include the potentially lucrative emerging markets of China and India and investment in real estate investment trusts (reits). India is a rapidly growing nation that is challenging China's title of the growth capital of the world. The country has been making headlines recently, not only for its growth success but also the volatility of its stock market. Argyle Street Management chairman V-Nee Yeh said India had two advantages over China. Its businesses were privately owned and most people spoke English. 'India has a highly educated, elite business class,' Mr Yeh said at this year's Wealth Management Conference - Hong Kong 2006, hosted by the Institute of Financial Planners of Hong Kong and Courses & Seminars Ltd. 'Most of China's big business is formerly state owned and therefore needs more restructuring, whereas India's businesses are private and don't have this problem.' Gerry Ng Joo Yeow, managing director of Baring Asset Management Asia, favoured China because of its continued high economic growth and strong fundamentals. But because of the short-term volatility of markets and the difficulty, even for professionals, to predict market movements, investors should invest small amounts on a regular basis, he said. 'Don't try to be too smart. It is sometimes best just to invest regular amounts across a wide range of assets,' Mr Ng said. Reits provide investors with the opportunity of investing in various real estate projects such as office buildings, apartments, shopping centres, warehouses and hotels. Also speaking at the conference, Chris Reilly, director of property, Asia, Henderson Global Investors, said reits should form part of a balanced investment portfolio. 'Reits have a low performance correlation to other assets, which allows them to add balance to a portfolio,' he said. The growth in emerging markets and reits have not only created investment options, they have also meant an increase in demand for people to work in the investment industry. 'Fund managers and analysts with a good track record at managing funds are in greatest demand,' Mr Ng said. Graduates with degrees in economics and MBA's are often preferred. However, degrees in mathematics and physics provide a good background for fund managers carrying out quantitative analysis. 'A degree only gets your foot in the door. It is how you apply yourself once through the door that counts,' Mr Ng said. There are also sales and client servicing vacancies in the industry. 'Salespeople need to be graduates and chartered members of the industry. They need to be go-getters, develop their own contacts and hunt down prospects like a dog hunts for a bone,' Mr Ng said. There are many job opportunities across the whole sector, from banks to insurance companies. 'Those interested in a career in this area need to [be likeable] and have good interpersonal skills and technical knowledge,' Mr Ng said. all set for five-day clearing week A five-day clearing week for Hong Kong's banking industry will begin on September 4. From this date all clearing and settlement of funds through cheque, autopay or electronic fund transfer will cease on Saturdays and be available from Mondays to Fridays only. The Hong Kong Association of Banks said the move to a five-day clearing week would bring Hong Kong in line with the practices of other leading financial centres, including the United States, Britain, Switzerland, Germany, Japan and Singapore. Association chairman Peter Wong said while some bank customers might initially need to adjust their banking habits and cash-flow management, he was confident that the implementation of a five-day clearing week would be smooth and hassle-free. online traders still want that personal touch The recently released Retail Investor Survey 2005, conducted by the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing last December, revealed an increase in the use of online stock trading by investors. In light of the findings, HSBC has announced that about 80 per cent of its stock trading transactions are done via its online service. A company spokesman said since the bank began to offer an online stock broking service in 2000, the number of customers performing online stock trading had been growing steadily, particularly in the past two years. The remaining 20 per cent of stock transactions were performed via the HSBC call centre and over the counter. The bank has more than 1 million personal online banking customers. The spokesman said convenient online functions such as 'stockwatch' and 'stop loss limits' encouraged customers to do stock trading online. 'But we are still recruiting staff. We have been recruiting for the past year to get more staff who can help offer wealth management services. They may do certain transactions online, but customers still want to see our staff for overall financial planning, advice on investment portfolio diversification, funds and insurance,' the spokesman said.