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The future of banking in Hong Kong

Monday 14 November 2011 – by Will Henley in Hong Kong

As Hong Kong bids to become a global capital for international banking, two leading figures in its banking sector talk to Global Financial Strategy about the challenges and opportunities in store.

Hong Kong is regularly touted, by pollsters, business insiders and officials alike, as the heir apparent to New York or London.

The raw statistics are impressive.

Already it has one of the largest representations of international banks in the world, with over 70 of the world’s top 100 firms having operations there. Around 150 banks in total have licenses to trade in Hong Kong of which around 125 are incorporated abroad.

But how much further can this industry grow? Substantially more, according to Carrie Leung, chief executive of the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers.

Such is the potential for banking in Hong Kong that she says it is “reasonable” to assume that the number employed by firms there will rise from around 90,000 currently to top 100,000 within a decade – a rate of 1,000 extra a year.

“More and more banks are establishing their head offices in Hong Kong,” says the chief executive, who herself used to work for Standard Chartered, which is regularly rumoured to be considering re-headquartering from London. “A lot of foreign – European and Indian – banks will come to Hong Kong because they want to get into China,” she says.

“A lot of Chinese banks, too, have established a presence here,” she continues. “[Chinese] banks such as ICBC [Industrial and Commercial Bank of China] and China Construction Bank were traditionally only operating in China, but now they are based in Hong Kong.”

Leung notes the large numbers of foreign nationals that flock to Hong Kong to take up middle and senior management positions in the city, but says it is the local workforce which is in many respects its lifeblood.

“You can bring in people from overseas, but you still need a large number of local people to run your operations,” the chief executive says. Yet despite its growth, or perhaps because of it, she says the banking sector is facing a “recruitment crisis”.

“There has been [a crisis] – last year and this year. We have a shortage of manpower.” This dearth of workers is mainly around the mid-level she says, involving supervisors and managers, and is being exacerbated by banks transferring Mandarin speaking staff to new operations in China.

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