Since the launch of the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) Scheme and last year's SARS epidemic, the average Hong Kong investor with family responsibilities has been planning more carefully for future financial security and possible contingencies. At the same time, companies recruiting insurance agents have realised that it is just such people, with a mature outlook and a few years' work experience behind them, who can fit best into a sales or financial planning role.
Manly Cheng, senior vice president of MassMutual Financial Group's agency department, says that slightly older candidates are now often preferred. "Many employees in middle management positions were hit by corporate streamlining during the economic downturn," he says. "We have found, though, that their skill sets and experience are transferable to the field of insurance."
MassMutual currently has 1,800 insurance agents and financial consultants in Hong Kong and anticipates tremendous growth opportunities. The target for 2005 is to quadruple the size of its agency workforce and to capture a larger share of the local market.
"The penetration rate for insurance in Hong Kong is relatively low when benchmarked against other developed countries," says Mr Cheng. "For example, the number of individual life policies in force covers only 80 percent of Hong Kong's population, while the US and Japan have respective penetration rates of 136 and 533 percent."
Both established players and newcomers to the field have plans for recruitment. Also, a number of new investment-linked insurance products are being introduced to cater for different customer needs and accelerating demand.
"In most cases, we are talking to clients about lifelong financial planning and the concept of providing protection for one's family," says Mr Cheng. "We have found that more mature salespeople can share their own experiences in this respect and offer very practical advice."
While insurers expect the trend towards older sales professionals to continue, Mr Cheng emphasises that nothing prevents younger candidates being trained to become top financial consultants. "We organise monthly recruitment seminars to identify hard-working candidates who are aggressive, self-motivated and customer-oriented," he says. "Product training and financial management courses are then provided
for new joiners who work towards the insurance intermediaries qualifying exam."