Investment: Don’t write off Hong Kong just yet
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Opinion

Investment: Don’t write off Hong Kong just yet

The great and the good have assembled again for the Global Financial Leaders investment summit in Hong Kong.

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Citi’s Jane Fraser, Goldman’s David Solomon and HSBC’s Noel Quinn, among others, at Table 6

Hong Kong’s latest Global Financial Leaders’ investment summit, a three-day shindig that started on November 6, was quite an affair.

Last year’s event, entitled ‘Navigating Beyond Uncertainty’, was really a love-letter to the world, beseeching investors and institutions not to forget about the city. Eddie Yue, Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s chirpy chief executive, kicked off proceedings. Financial bigwigs crossed oceans to a city yet to lift pandemic restrictions, including Morgan Stanley chairman and chief executive James Gorman and UBS chairman Colm Kelleher.

But would the same gang reconvene for the second year in a row? You betcha. In fact, the turnout at this year’s event, called ‘Living with Complexity’ (which again sounds less like the title of a financial summit and more like an album of ambient music), was even better.

Gorman and Kelleher joined Deutsche Bank chief executive Christian Sewing to discuss financial uncertainty. Former Bank of England governor Mark Carney sat down with Standard Chartered chief executive Bill Winters to ponder the state of environmental, social and governance issues. And HSBC chief Noel Quinn mulled the future of the cross-border Greater Bay Area with Bank of China chairman Ge Haijiao.

It was quite the gathering of banking talent. Table six alone boasted Quinn, Citi chief executive Jane Fraser and Goldman Sachs chief executive and chairman David Solomon.

Unless something goes terribly wrong, this is Asia’s century

A pertinent question is: why? What convinced so many masters of the financial universe to once again fly halfway across the world. Hadn’t they heard about China’s slowdown and the push by global firms to diversify away from Asia’s largest economy? Didn’t they know Hong Kong was yesterday’s news, a once-bustling financial hub hit by years of riots, bad press and Covid-related isolation.

Three reasons immediately suggest themselves.

First, unless something goes terribly wrong, this is Asia’s century. It is bursting with ambitious corporates. Its consumers increasingly shape the global demand for goods. The region is where growth in institutional and retail banking and private wealth intersect. Little wonder global bank chiefs, given a chance, are so keen to visit and hobnob with clients.

Second, these institutions need to figure out what to do with China. Is it investable? Is the Xi administration friend or foe to banks and private businesses? Are the various crises it faces – demographics, real estate – containable or contagious? Should global lenders be pushing to secure more onshore operating licences or is a bigger prize ultimately the business they can do overseas with increasingly ambitious mainland firms?

Third, there’s Hong Kong itself. Despite its acquiescence to Beijing’s demands to all but seal itself from the world for nearly a third of a decade, it’s very much still in business. In truth, there’s nowhere else in Asia like it. That’s why the latest financial summit was a bona fide success and why a third iteration will surely take place next November, attended by many of the same smiling, senior faces.

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