Hong Kong’s brokers and banks shut branches as financial hub hunkers down for worst coronavirus flare-up yet
- Bright Smart Securities and Everbright Securities have stopped allowing customers to conduct in-person trading at their premises
- Bank of China (Hong Kong) has shut 50 branches across the city, while Bank of East Asia said it shut 15 outlets
Several of Hong Kong’s biggest brokers and banks have shut their branches, as the financial hub hunkers down for the toughest social-distancing rules yet to combat a fresh wave of Covid-19 outbreaks that sent daily infections into four digits for the first time.
Bright Smart Securities, operator of the city’s largest brokerage network, said it stopped letting customers have in-person access to trading rooms in 14 branches starting from February 8. Bank of China (Hong Kong), one of the city’s three currency-issuing banks, shut 50 branches, while Bank of East Asia shut 15 outlets.
Bank of China (Hong Kong) on Thursday shut their Tuen Mun and Olympic City branches because of infections. The bank said it will thoroughly clean and disinfect the Tuen Mun premises, and arrange Covid-19 tests and home quarantine for all employees.
“We want to avoid social gatherings to prevent the spread of the [Covid-19] disease,” said Bright Smart’s chief executive Edmond Hui Yik-bun, in an interview with South China Morning Post. “Many investors like to meet their friends at our branches to socialise and chat about investments. These gatherings should be avoided during the current health crisis.”
Hong Kong recorded 1,161 new infections on Wednesday in the biggest jump in cases since the pandemic. It also saw two deaths, the most in six months. To rein in the outbreak, health authorities instructed supermarkets, wet markets and department stores to serve only vaccinated customers, starting on February 24. Places of worship and hair salons were ordered to be shut until then.
Banks, insurance firms, wealth management firms and stockbrokers have been spared from the draconian rules, but financial firms said they are not taking any chances.
“Most of our clients are conducting their trading online anyway, so the new measures would not have any impact on our business,” said Hui.
Everbright Securities International, formerly known as Everbright Sun Hung Kai, closed its two wealth management centres and stopped trading at its premises for customers, according to the spokeswoman of the brokerage.
Financial regulators such as the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), Insurance Authority, the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority, and the Financial Reporting Council said they would adopt the government’s “vaccine pass” policy of serving only vaccinated customers, beginning on February 16.
UBS, Citi, DBS and other lenders are following guidelines issued by the HKMA for their to be vaccinated, or be regularly tested for Covid-19.
“The HKMA has maintained close dialogue with the banking industry since the outbreak of the pandemic,” an HKMA spokesman told the Post. “Regular guidance has been provided to banks to assist them in managing the challenges associated with the pandemic.”
“Over 90 per cent of our staff in Hong Kong are vaccinated as of today, while those who are unfit to receive vaccination on medical grounds must undergo Covid-19 testing every two weeks,” said a spokeswoman at Citi, which employs more than 4,500 staff in Hong Kong.
DBS said 90-per cent of its employees are vaccinated. “With the surging number of the Omicron variant, staff who are suitable to work from home are strongly urged to continue to do so,” a spokeswoman said. “A series of precautionary measures, including rapid testing kits for employees, are well in place.”
UBS said it requires its client-facing staff to be either vaccinated or be tested every two weeks.
HSBC, the largest of Hong Kong’s currency issuers, this week launched a service that allowed customers to withdraw cash from automated teller machines (ATMs) through scanning QR codes on their smartphones, taking a small step towards shortening queues and reducing transaction times.
Author: Cheryl Heng, SCMP