Players in Hong Kong's retirement funds industry are trying to revitalize an industry association that has been criticized for lacking teeth and direction. Although the Hong Kong Retirement Scheme Association (HKRSA) tried to raise key issues during the establishment of the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) programme, investment pros say it failed to get a coherent message across to the government.

This so damaged the association's credibility that frustrated MPF service providers tried setting up a new trade group to represent the industry, completely bypassing the HKRSA. Furthermore, it is also accused of being too industry focused and not having a broad enough participation base from companies and scheme members.

David Humphreys, CEO of provident fund services at HSBC and now head of the HKRSA's development committee, admits that during the debates over creating MPF, the association was overwhelmed and became rather one dimensional. Last spring, however, the HKRSA recognized the issues facing it and spent some time questioning their direction.

Committee members agreed that they needed to assert their role post-MPF. Stuart Leckie, chairman of Hewitt Associates and the HKRSA's new chairman, says the group wants to be viewed as: "The voice of retirement plans in Hong Kong, taken seriously by government and representing all stakeholders in the retirement industry."

But what about the matter of whose interests the HKRSA actually promotes - those of actual retirement schemes, or those of fund managers, insurance companies and banks? Humphreys says the association encourages local employers with retirement schemes to join but not individual workers.

Indeed, some fund managers who have been critical of the association concede that the membership base has deepened over the past 18 months and become more scheme-oriented. Leckie adds that with top scheme sponsors such as Jardine Matheson, Swire, Mass Transit Corporation and the Jockey Club actively participating in the HKRSA, he believes that it effectively represents over 600,000 employees, and he hopes to see that figure rise to one million soon.

This will be accomplished thanks to a business plan conceived last year that emphasizes developing best practice papers, training and seminars for scheme sponsors; an accreditation programme; networking with other industry organizations; and increasing membership to ensure a good balance between young and old, and local versus expatriate representation. A recent HKRSA survey found 70% of members want help with training and qualifications.