Citi moves senior equities staff out of Hong Kong to Singapore and elsewhere amid Covid-19 woes

Citigroup has increased its staff in Hong Kong by more than 300 in the past 12 months. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Citigroup is moving half a dozen senior equities staff from Hong Kong to Singapore and other markets as the Chinese territory's steadfast zero-Covid-19 approach hampers operations for global banks and the quality of life for their employees.

Mr Lee McQueen, head of pan-Asia equity blocks, is among managing directors relocating to Singapore, following a recent move by Ms Sue Lee, the region's head of equity derivatives distribution, people familiar with the moves said.

Another four to five directors - including Mr Kevin Zolkiewicz, head of futures execution for the Asia-Pacific; Mr Rob McVie, who focuses on prime finance; and Mr Abhishek Chaudhary, head of equity execution advisory in the region - are in talks to transfer to Singapore, the people said.

"The bank was being as flexible as possible to support staff who wanted to relocate due to family reasons or for client coverage," said Mr James Griffiths, a Hong Kong-based spokesman for Citigroup. He declined to comment on specific personnel moves.

Mr Daniel Millwood, Asia-Pacific head of prime services sales trading, is moving to London, while Mr Allan Newsome is relocating to Australia as an electronic sales trader, the people said.

While the number of relocations is tiny compared with the bank's workforce in the division, it would be one of the biggest shift of senior executives by a global bank out of Hong Kong amid growing concern over the city's status as a regional finance centre.

Business groups have sounded warnings that the city is facing an exodus of foreign talent as its dogged approach to keeping infections at bay, which includes two weeks of quarantine for incoming travelers, is making it hard to operate.

Hong Kong is now struggling to contain a fifth wave of the coronavirus. Chinese President Xi Jinping this week called on city officials to take "all necessary measures" in getting the outbreak under control, an unusually direct intervention that could pave the way for a broad lockdown.

Other financial centres such as Singapore are opting to live with virus. The city-state on Wednesday signalled that it will substantially ease travel and social restrictions once the current wave of infections peaks.

Moving staff out of Hong Kong is a sensitive issue for global banks, which are all seeking to build up major businesses in mainland China. Hong Kong has long served as a gateway to the mainland, and some banks are still building up headcount in the city amid the difficulties.

Citigroup has increased its staff numbers in Hong Kong by more than 300 in the past 12 months, one-third of which were recruited or transferred from overseas to "support client-led growth", said Mr Griffiths. In the equities business, the bank has added 25 people in the city during the period, he said. Hiring from outside Hong Kong spanned across investment banking, sales and trading and cash management, he said.

Overall, Citigroup employs more than 4,600 people in Hong Kong.

The bank's relocations are in response to client demand and also partially part of plans to beef up further in equities in the region. Citigroup runs its markets business out of Singapore, where Ms Julia Raiskin, the bank's head of Asia-Pacific equities, is based.

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