Many of the problems that contributed to the financial meltdown could take a long time to fix, but industry executives have already begun to take initial steps towards improving their own situation by embracing further education, the one thing they know can bring about some quick relief. Applications to the city's finance qualification courses have surged in recent years on the back of the growing sophistication of financial products, a more tightly regulated sector and the internationalisation of money markets. Academics believe the global recession will only accelerate this pace of growth. 'Financial education can help stabilise the sector in a number of ways. It can improve a manager's ability to analyse and better understand the products they are selling and train people to ask the right questions, even if they don't fully comprehend the complex mathematical background behind the product,' said Mark Seasholes, associate professor in the University of Science and Technology's department of finance. Daniel Mok, programme director at Hong Kong University's school of professional and continuing education, says the downturn is an ideal time for people to pursue further finance qualifications. 'With the sector becoming more specialised and requiring a higher level of professionalism, people will have to obtain more qualifications in order to develop their career in the field. Those with strong academic qualifications will be in a better position to take advantage of market opportunities when the economy recovers,' he added. Financial institutions in the short to medium term are also more likely to hire well-rounded individuals who understand the economics behind financial risks rather than just pure number crunchers, added Professor Seasholes. In Hong Kong, demand for further finance training has gravitated towards two main qualifications: the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and the Certified Financial Planner (CFP). The CFP has charted the fastest growth due to the vast number of individuals working in frontline investment advisory roles, said Mr Mok. 'There are about 100,000 people working directly or indirectly in finance jobs that involve advising members of the public. This is the reason why the CFP has probably grown faster than any other qualification, but that is not to say other qualifications are any less important,' Mr Mok said. There are more than 3,000 students enrolled in Hong Kong University school of professional and continuing education's CFP programme. Wealthier and more investment-savvy consumers have also raised the bar on the professional standard of financial planners, sending many back to the classroom to sharpen their skills. 'Financial advisers can no longer just push financial products onto their clients. They are expected to give better advice, understand how complicated financial products work and take into account the needs of investors,' said Mr Mok. The CFP covers core areas such as the foundations of financial planning, insurance, investments, taxation, employee benefits and estate planning. 'The programme has substantial coverage of risk management for individuals and products, and promotes ethical professional behaviour - two key concerns that consumers and regulators are asking for from financial planning practitioners,' said Angeline Chin, chief executive of the Institute of Financial Planners of Hong Kong. Other finance qualifications have more recently refocused their drive on ethics and corporate governance due to the growing number of corporate scandals and financial fraud cases. In 2007, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) made the completion of an online ethics module a mandatory requirement in its qualification examinations. 'Professional ethics is at the heart of the new ACCA qualification,' said Brenda Lam, head of learning and development at ACCA Hong Kong. 'The adjustment was made due to corporations' growing emphasis on ethical elements. As professional accountants, we have the responsibility to contribute towards the finance industry's heightened focus on ethics and the demand for greater internal control and transparency.' The CFA has also seen strong enrolment as complex financial instruments struggle to survive amid volatile markets. This qualification trains participants to become expert in quantitative methodologies for analysing securities and other investment vehicles. Even experienced frontline professionals who never had the opportunity to pursue a first degree are enrolling in courses to update their skills and knowledge, said Anders Yung, programme leader of the bachelor's degree in business (finance) at Polytechnic University's school of professional education and executive development. 'Promotion without the proper qualifications is very limited these days,' said Mr Yung, adding that a sizeable number of mature students are taking his programme. With the financial crisis showing little sign of abating, demand for professional finance qualifications is set to grow. Schools such as Hong Kong University's school of professional and continuing education are already considering new programmes on subjects such as alternative financial investments in order to meet the emerging needs of the market.