Local bankers advised not to exploit turmoil in HK: Sources

Anti-extradition protesters gathering at Salisbury Garden before heading to West Kowloon station earlier this month. Some tycoons in the territory have moved funds, or considered doing so, given provisions in the Bill that would have allowed China to
Anti-extradition protesters gathering at Salisbury Garden before heading to West Kowloon station earlier this month. Some tycoons in the territory have moved funds, or considered doing so, given provisions in the Bill that would have allowed China to potentially freeze funds or other assets in the city. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

MAS said to have asked wealth managers not to aggressively market services or woo clients

Singapore has cautioned wealth managers against aggressively marketing their services or making other efforts to woo clients by capitalising on rival Hong Kong's political turmoil, sources have said.

Officials from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) made the request last month to wealth managers, including DBS Bank and a unit of OCBC Bank, the sources - who requested anonymity - added.

MAS told bankers that it wanted to ensure wealth managers here were sensitive to the situation in Hong Kong and did not design campaigns specifically targeting business from the territory, the sources said.

The move comes as Hong Kong has been thrown into turmoil by a proposed extradition Bill - declared dead this week by Chief Executive Carrie Lam - that for the first time would have allowed China to seek extraditions from the city, sparking demonstrations that attracted at least a million protesters.

Some tycoons in the Chinese-controlled territory have moved funds, or considered doing so, given provisions in the Bill that would have allowed China to potentially freeze funds or other assets in the city.

The unrest has also encouraged some wealth managers to set up in Singapore instead of Hong Kong, as both cities are considered to be the main offshore hubs for wealth management in Asia, Reuters has reported.

When asked for a comment for this story, MAS referred to remarks last month by its managing director Ravi Menon, in which he said there were no signs of "any significant shift of business or funds" from Hong Kong to Singapore.

He had also said that any upheaval in Hong Kong could actually be negative for Singapore.

It was not immediately clear how many banks had received the MAS guidance.

Private banks routinely and legally help clients to move and manage their assets in different parts of the world.

"The message was that we shouldn't be taking undue advantage of what's going on in Hong Kong," a senior banking source in Singapore said, on condition of anonymity.

ACTING RESPONSIBLY

The message was that we shouldn't be taking undue advantage of what's going on in Hong Kong... We have to act responsibly and not launch campaigns to convince clients that this is a good time for them to move their assets.

A SENIOR BANKING SOURCE, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We have to act responsibly and not launch campaigns to convince clients that this is a good time for them to move their assets," he said, adding that he was not aware of any banks making a big push to get business from Hong Kong in the current climate.

"We are getting a lot of inquiries. What can we do if clients are looking to move money here? We can't stop the flows," he said.

Both DBS and OCBC declined to comment.

OFFSHORE MOVE

Hong Kong and Singapore compete fiercely to be considered Asia's premier financial centre.

Global private banks including Credit Suisse and UBS, as well as Asian wealth managers, have their regional operations in the two hubs.

The riches held by Hong Kong's tycoons have until now made it the larger private wealth base, with 853 individuals worth more than $100 million - slightly more than double the number in Singapore, according to a Credit Suisse report last year.

Singaporean banks, including DBS and OCBC, have been rapidly expanding their businesses in Hong Kong and China over the past few years, and the Greater China region accounts for a significant portion of their revenue.

Like their global peers, Singaporean wealth managers also have Greater China desks in Singapore dedicated to clients in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. They help these clients open bank accounts and set up family offices or trusts.

"We are getting inquiries from clients in Hong Kong. They want to know how this will impact their assets and the Hong Kong markets," another industry executive said.

"If they really want to move offshore, we have to help them with that," the executive added.

REUTERS

SEE : Laid-off expat bankers in HK struggle to find new jobs

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2019, with the headline 'Local bankers advised not to exploit turmoil in HK: Sources'. Print Edition | Subscribe