Anyone inclined to think there is a general freeze on hiring in the local finance sector can't have been looking in the right place. Some institutions may indeed be downsizing and clamping down on recruitment because of certain failings, but other employers, sensing opportunity and ready to invest, are very much in expansion mode. 'We are recruiting people who have experience in banking, the insurance industry and financial sales,' said Tony Chow Man-wai, assistant general manager of Noble Apex. 'But they have to want to build a career with us, not just see it as a temporary job and then, for example, go back to a bank.' In principle, there was no upper limit on the number the firm might hire, he said. Applicants, though, must realise that as frontline financial advisers they will have to meet clear expectations and conditions. The nature of the job requires people to be confident, self-disciplined and able to manage themselves. And, since much depends on developing a client base and building up assets under management, it is vital to establish strong working relationships with clients and colleagues, and to secure business, not just talk about it. 'The door is open for everyone, but we might have concerns about applicants with only back-office experience,' Mr Chow said. 'Even if you are very educated or academic, you may not be good at selling. Clients may believe your information, but if you don't know how to close the business, that doesn't help.' He explained that the company provided support with research on markets and a suitable range of investment products. But as an independent financial adviser, the status of frontline staff is essentially self-employed. Therefore, they have to think in terms of building their own business and achieving targets independently. Mr Chow said some recruits might have to get used to an income that was part commission, rather than a straight salary. In certain cases, this comes as something of a shock but, with hard work and a strong client portfolio, there is nothing to stop people pulling in very competitive incomes. However, reflecting industry trends in Australia, Britain and the United States, Noble Apex is shifting its focus from commission on sales to charging clients a quarterly management fee. This is seen as a step towards achieving greater stability and promoting higher overall standards of professionalism in the sector. About one-third of the company's 180 Hong Kong-based consultants now earn the majority of their income in management fees - a system that provides an incentive to work closely with wealthier clients and has its attractions for experienced candidates with a background in securities or banking. 'If they bring in clients with big assets, they can earn a better package than before, and we encourage them to go out and do it,' Mr Chow said. 'Since we are working in the same field and doing the same sort of business, there are no hurdles if they join us.' The hiring plans of Kerry Rooks, human resources director for Prudential Hong Kong, are even more aggressive. In line with the firm's stated aim of being number one in the local life insurance market - according to official industry statistics, it was second last year with a 12 per cent market share - she intends to increase agency headcount from 4,000 to 6,000 by the end of this year. 'Talent is always in high demand,' Ms Rooks said. 'This doesn't wane or dissipate because of the downturn.' Such targets mean recruitment is continuous. Candidates with various backgrounds, academic qualifications and levels of experience are welcome to apply, but with the prerequisite that they are ambitious and keen to learn. The firm has a series of comprehensive training programmes for recent graduates and people switching company or speciality. The courses cover products, sales processes, presentation skills and customer service excellence before moving on to management and leadership-related topics. Ms Rooks also explained that the basic philosophy was to pay 'competitive' compensation. There are regular benchmarking exercises to make sure remuneration for sales-based positions is fair and that commission is broadly in step with the market. 'Given our presence within Asia, the opportunities for career progression are enormous,' she said. 'We are very proud of giving employees the chance to develop not only in the area where they started but in different business units and other countries.' The firm also has steady demand for actuaries and underwriters to join the team of about 750 non-sales staff in Hong Kong. The usual requirement is a degree, often in mathematics for actuarial positions, but all recruits receive extensive training. Alan Tsang Hing-lun, director and chief executive of AMTD Financial Planning, is similarly upbeat about the general outlook. He has 'never stopped hiring' and is gearing up to take on about 150 financial planners, plus 60 to 100 telemarketers. Relevant experience and industry licences are obviously an advantage, but not requirements. 'We will provide MPF products starting from late 2009, so people with an MPF licence would be of interest,' Mr Tsang said. He added that financial planners had a clear career path, with promotion prospects determined by sales performance, client feedback and suitability for management. The company supports new hires by assigning them two clients a day until they are well established and by giving expert backup. 'We have a team of full-time professionals to write financial plans,' Mr Tsang said. 'They will discuss with the frontline planner and help to provide a draft in black and white for the client.'