Hong Kong banks send some staff home as tear gas wafts outside

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Hong Kong on Monday (November 11) spiralled into rare weekday violence in the 24th straight week of pro-democracy unrest.
People enter a shopping mall to escape from tear gas fired by police during a protest in Hong Kong's Central district on Nov 11, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Major Hong Kong banks spent their morning telling employees to commute carefully, and by afternoon, began urging them to consider going home as police lobbed tear gas at protesters on the streets outside.

"Your safety is our top priority," HSBC Holdings wrote to staff around lunchtime, inviting them to use their judgment in leaving and noting the firm will remain open.

"Please take laptops home if you are able to work remotely."

Most of the city's major investment banks and other financial firms tried to operate normally, though some lenders closed branches near flare-ups as a precaution, after the death of a student fuelled a surge of unrest.

For much of Hong Kong, the morning presented one of the tensest commutes in months as demonstrations closed some subway stations. As employees arrived at JPMorgan Chase's main offices, police in riot gear could be seen gathering across the street.

Pro-democracy demonstrations escalated further after an officer shot two protesters. By lunch, television footage showed workers in business suits and skirts covering their faces and flocking into the Landmark Mall in Central - an area flanked by bank towers - to escape tear gas. Meantime, banks sent workers fresh waves of e-mails urging them to be careful.

Bank of America and Goldman Sachs Group also gave employees the option of heading out, and UBS Group is planning a similar move, according to people with direct knowledge of the internal conversations.

"Ongoing public events are impacting travel and may continue in the coming days," HSBC said in its message to staff.

"You are encouraged to make plans to leave the office early and under safe conditions if you foresee disruption to your commute."

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BNP Paribas promised workers it would monitor the situation and alert them to new developments. Employees there can confer with managers to decide what to do.

"Continue to exercise care and caution while travelling to or around our office premises," the bank cautioned them in a memo.

"Please also remember to carry your laptops to and from work on a daily basis."

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