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Hong Kong wins banker commitments to push ahead with summit

Published Thu, Sep 15, 2022 · 11:02 AM

TOP executives from about 20 leading global firms have committed to flying in for Hong Kong’s financial summit, even as quarantine rules threaten to damp turnout at a conference designed to restore the city’s reputation as a regional hub.

The chief executive officers at HSBC Holdings Plc and Standard Chartered Plc, the two global banks with the biggest local presence, have already said they will attend the November two-day summit.

Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman and Citigroup Inc.’s Jane Fraser are prepared to travel to Hong Kong, while top executives at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., UBS Group AG, JPMorgan & Chase Co. as well as BlackRock Inc.’s Larry Fink are among those invited, according to people familiar with the details who asked not to be named discussing a private matter.

Attendance by many of Wall Street’s chiefs is still contingent on the city ending its three-day hotel quarantine for incoming travelers, but about 20 firms have nonetheless pledged to send at least a C-suite executive, the people said.

The summit is part of a slate of events planned to trumpet that the financial hub is open for business after almost three years of strict Covid policies and a political crackdown by Beijing. The city is also planning to host a fintech event in late October as well as later in November the iconic Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament for the first time in more than three years.

While specifics of the Nov. 1-2 event, planned at the Four Seasons Hotel overlooking the city’s Victoria Harbour, may change given uncertainties around restrictions on incoming travelers, the executives are expected to meet local regulators and take part in private and public forums.

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Banks have told the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the organizer of the event, that they won’t accept individual waivers for their executives, since they are sensitive to being seen as receiving special privileges, people familiar said. Waivers issued last year to actor Nicole Kidman and JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon caused a public uproar.

UBS, Citigroup, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley all declined to comment. Blackrock didn’t immediately respond to a request for a comment. 

Pressure is building on John Lee, the former police officer who this year was installed by Beijing as the city’s new chief executive, to do away with quarantine rules as rival financial hubs such as Singapore, New York and London have fully opened. Top epidemiologists in the city have called on them to be dismantled as well as Peter Woo, one of the city’s wealthiest property magnates. 

Officials are targeting to do away with quarantine by November, but they remain wary as new cases have hovered around 10,000 a day and the vaccination rate remains low among the city’s vulnerable elderly population. At a press briefing on Tuesday, Lee said that any decision on quarantine will be made closer to the date.

“We need to make sure that we can protect our public health care system and high risk groups,” he said, while expressing confidence the city’s events will be successful. 

In August, the city cut hotel quarantine from seven days, and it was previously as long as 21 days. The government this week also announced that starting Nov. 1 it will allow travelers who test positive in hotel quarantine to remain there, instead of being sent to a government isolation facility. 

‘Absolutely’ 

Standard Chartered CEO Bill Winters this week offered an upbeat assessment of the city’s progress, saying that Hong Kong was now “open.” 

“It has been and will continue to be an outstanding financial center, with its proximity to China,” Winters said.

HSBC’s CEO Noel Quinn, who in April served a week in quarantine during his first visit to the city in more than a year, said last month that he will “absolutely” attend. “It’s great to see Hong Kong starting to open up,” he said. 

The bankers will first spend half a day exchanging views with officials from the HKMA, the city’s defacto central bank, in a closed-door meeting, according to two people familiar with the matter. 

The next morning, visitors will attend a public conference of panel discussions and speeches, according to the people. The agenda was deliberately kept brief to allow overseas executives to visit local clients and staff, the people said. 

The event remains subject to change, including the agenda and attendees, depending on the pandemic situation, the people said. An HKMA spokeswoman said in an emailed statement that they are making “good progress” and are “in discussion with relevant stakeholders about the appropriate arrangements to facilitate the hosting of the event.” 

Lee’s office referred questions to the HKMA. The Health Bureau didn’t immediately respond to a request for a comment.

By contrast, Singapore will host the Formula One Grand Prix race this September with minimal restrictions as it repositions itself as a prime business and tourist destination following its pivot toward a strategy of living with Covid-19. The Shangri-La Dialogue in June drew top diplomats and military officials from around the world to the city-state while music sensation Billie Eilish performed to a packed stadium in August. BLOOMBERG

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