Hong Kong may soon have a new breed of financial advisers specifically trained to give advice on investment funds.

Hong Kong Investment Funds Association (HKIFA) is in talks with the Hong Kong Securities Institute on providing a training course for financial products providers as soon as early next year, Sally Wong, executive director of HKIFA, has told FinanceAsia.com.

Details of the course are yet to be drawn up, but the fund houses representative body is hoping to obtain recognition for the course in the long run from the financial regulatory authority in Hong Kong, the Securities and Futures Commission. "We would be doing some informal research to ascertain the demand for this type of course. We will also consult banks as well as insurance companies to understand more about their training needs and what sort of level we should pitch this course at - whether it should be the trainers or the individual staff members," Wong says.

The initiative comes as the city is entering the peak period for workers to choose their retirement funds under the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) program to be launched from 1 December.

Directed at insurance agents, bank employees and fund management companies, the course will focus on the regulatory aspects of fund investment, understanding client needs plus the operations of funds.

Wong says the number of financial product sellers has been growing in recent years, with around 40,000 agents selling insurance products, and between 1,000 to 2,000 investment fund sales staff who could benefit from the training program. With banks, she says it is a matter of how many staff members they want to train up. The course will concentrate on fund investment, providing a set of skills different from selling bank and insurance products.

A HKIFA survey released this week says the penetration rate of funds investment has reached 7.8% of the adult population, a marked rise from the 3% recorded a few years ago. The new figures exclude investors of TraHK, a government-launched fund tracking the local benchmark Hang Seng Index.

Despite the increase in penetration rate, HKIFA notes a high percentage of the population is still not familiar with fund investment. The association is planning to promote fund investment on the back of the community's general awareness of MPF.

The survey has also found the average fund investors in Hong Kong are in their 30s, tertiary-educated, earning more than HK$27,000 a month and with private housing. Fund investment accounts for about 15% of their total liquid assets.