Hong Kong bankers are upset about the finance summit

A banking summit aimed at reviving Hong Kong’s status as an international hub for finance following two years of lockdowns has drawn a mixed response.

Last week, the Hong Kong CEO John Lee welcomed the bosses of big western banks, with Goldman CEO David Solomon, Morgan Stanley boss James Gorman, and UBS chairman Colm Kelleher among the top executives who flew in.

Lee told an audience of more than 200 participants from 20 countries that Hong Kong is open for business “We were, we are and we will remain one of the world’s leading financial centers,” Lee said. “You can take that to the bank.”

The investment summit, which also co-incided with the Hong Kong rugby sevens tournament, was designed to position Hong Kong as open for business.  The bank bosses appeared to give the news a cautious welcome. “Whilst we’re all very pro-China,” Gorman said that the the bank was “waiting for zero-Covid to open up in China and see what will happen.”

While the banks attending the summit made positive statements, their actions betrayed a different reality. Goldman, Morgan Stanley and UBS are among the western banks cutting headcount in mainland China as they grapple with rising geopolitical tensions amid a collapse in deal volumes. Morgan Stanley is set to cut a number of China-focused bankers as part of a plan to cut 50 investment banking jobs across Apac, while Goldman has laid off around 30 bankers in the region. Credit Suisse bankers in Singapore are fearful that they will be experience harsh cuts. 

The investment bankers we spoke to also noted the contrast between the effusive welcome extended to their bosses and the reality for colleagues travelling to Hong Kong.  

“Delegates were able to mix freely in restaurants and there didn’t seem to be any restrictions,” said one. I’m flying to Hong Kong next week and won’t be allowed to go into a supermarket, bar or restaurant for three days. So it’s a bit early to say that Hong Kong has completely re-opened.  It feels a bit like one rule for them and another for us.”

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