Training the pension fund service providers

The HKRSA and Hong Kong University team up to certify retirement services professionals.

The Hong Kong Retirement Schemes Association in conjunction with the University of Hong Kong's School of Professional and Continuing Education (Space) is establishing a certification process for professionals involved in retirement services, such as fund managers, trust bank employees and human resources managers.

David Humphreys, the recently retired CEO of HSBC Provident Fund Services, is one of the HKRSA organizers for the programme. "My impression is there isn't enough known about retirement planning," he says. "A company's HR department will have an MPF or ORSO pension scheme but doesn't really know how to look after an employee's retirement needs. And at service providers, the staff take insurance exams in order to advance, but this has only passing relevance to retirement planning."

The course is modelled on a training programme offered by an organization of Australian superannuation funds. Humphreys says the first course should be on offer in January.

The certification programme is one initiative resulting in an effort by the HKRSA to reinvigorate itself as well as to cooperate more with the Hong Kong government's Elderly Commission, chaired by Executive Council member Tam Yiu-chung.

Peter Wong, senior partner at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and an executive committee member at HKRSA, is also active with the Elderly Commission, which addresses social issues related to the aged. He says there has been too great a disconnect between issues such as health, housing and quality of life for retirees and the financial aspects that HKRSA addresses. Cooperation, he hopes, will enable HR managers and service providers to better understand the problems of retirement and the point of retirement protection.

Stuart Leckie, senior advisor to Hewitt Associates for Greater China and chairman of the HKRSA, says the Space course will include matters such as what is a trust, tax treatment, regulation, and the intricacies of Mandatory Provident Fund schemes. "Most financial services companies already have some form of internal training," he says. "This course will we hope set a standard. Just like the CFA is not a legal standard for being a fund manager but is encouraged, we hope anyone in the retirement services industry will take this course."

The HKRSA is also planning to address more proactively regulatory changes needed to improve Hong Kong's pension policies. In May it held a conference that outlined a lot of problems. Now it wants to make more positive proposals to address them. Issues such as the retirement age and changing MPF payout structures are likely to be featured. Simon Rigby, former managing director at Schroder Investment Management, is coordinating a follow-up conference for February.

Finally, Leckie says the HKRSA will at some point turn to the question of its role in China. He notes firms such as HSBC use staff based in Guangdong province to administrate MPF plans. "There is a huge demand for knowledge about pensions law, accounting et cetera in China," he says.