Hong Kong’s monetary authority will roll out the red carpet for the world’s top financiers, as it aims to reverse an exodus of financial talent from the city to reclaim its place in global finance after more than two years of Covid-19 measures.
Eddie Yue Wai-man, the chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), has personally invited more than 100 of the world’s top bankers, fund managers and financial executives to a summit on November 1 and 2, according to three sources familiar with the plan. HSBC, Standard Chartered, Citigroup, BlackRock and JPMorgan Chase are among the invitees, the sources said.
The two-day event – first flagged by Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po in March -comprises a close-door meeting on November 1, billed as the “Global Financial Leaders Dialogue” for HKMA to gauge feedback from a selection of top bankers, followed by a public forum called the “Global Financial Leaders Investment Summit” the next day at the Four Seasons Hotel.
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The in-person summit would be the biggest gathering of financial executives in the city since the Covid-19 pandemic was first reported in 2020. The city, the world’s top destination for initial public offerings (IPOs) in seven of the previous 13 years, has lost nearly 90,000 residents to emigration as of the 12 months ended last August.
A major sticking point for attendees will be Hong Kong’s onerous anti-pandemic controls, which currently requires seven days of isolation at approved quarantine hotels across the city.
The HKMA, Hong Kong’s de facto central bank, “will try its best” to facilitate the travel arrangements of the financial executives, according to Yue’s invitation, short of guaranteeing waivers in the quarantine rules.
A short-lived quarantine waiver scheme was scrapped last November, as red tape bogged down the approvals process, with one in four applicants – JPMorgan’s chief executive Jamie Dimon made a rare visit – being cleared to enter Hong Kong without quarantine. The actress Nicole Kidman also received a quarantine waiver to film in Hong Kong, a controversial move that generated a public backlash.
The scheme started in May last year allowed fully vaccinated senior executives from the financial industry and 500 of the largest listed companies on the Hong Kong stock exchange to conduct business in the city with no need for quarantine.
The waiver scheme failed due to its tough requirements, described by business executives as a Sisyphean task. Only 93 of the 399 waiver applications were approved before the scheme was abandoned, according to data provided by the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau (FSTB) which managed the scheme.
The two-day financial summit is timed ahead of the Rugby Sevens, the most important sports event in Hong Kong, which is awaiting the city government’s approval to proceed on November 4 to 6, having been postponed from April.
Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary Chan had flagged such a summit in March, saying that the city would host a high level financial event at the same time of the Rugby Sevens tournament in November to strengthen the city’s credentials as an international financial centre.
Most of the financiers invited have expressed their keen interest in attending the HKMA summit, pending clarifications on the city’s quarantine policies, sources said.
“We are taking forward the initiative announced by the Financial Secretary in this year’s Budget to organise a high-level investment summit,” a spokesman for the HKMA said. “We will provide more details at a suitable juncture.”
The summit could help rebuild the image of Hong Kong as an ideal place for international banks and brokers to do business, according to Robert Lee Wai-wang, the lawmaker for the financial services sector and chief executive of Hong Kong-based broker Grand Capital Holdings.
“The tough quarantine rule over the past two years has prevented international financiers from visiting Hong Kong, while the measures also led to many expatriates leaving the city,” Lee said. “A grand financial event may help attract people back.”
Still, a single event will not solve all problems, he added, noting that the industry’s talent will only return when the government relaxes travel restrictions further.
Financial regulators including the Securities and Futures Commission as well as the Insurance Authority have all faced a talent shortage since last year as staff emigrated and overseas recruits proved reluctant to come amid the tough quarantine rules.
The city adopted a 21-day quarantine rule for travellers starting in 2020, which was reduced to seven days in April this year. However, that is still more restrictive than other major financial centres such as Singapore and the UK, which have ended quarantine requirements for visitors.
The talent shortage has driven international firms to consider moving operations out of Hong Kong.
Almost a third of international insurance companies in Hong Kong are considering relocating their global and regional teams, leaving only staff focused on Hong Kong, according to a survey by the Hong Kong Federation of Insurers (HKFI) in February.
In October, nine out of 10 members surveyed by the Asia Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association said they found it difficult to operate in the city because of its restrictive Covid-19 policies, with nearly half saying they were contemplating moving staff or functions away from Hong Kong as a result.
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