The future of Hong Kong as an international financial centre
As an international financial centre, Hong Kong serves as mainland China’s gateway to the world. As a longstanding pillar of this city, HSBC is proud to play a pivotal role in connecting the East and the West.
The resumption of normal travel between Hong Kong and the mainland this year gave an instant boost to the flow of people and goods. Given the complex and volatile external environment, there is an ever-increasing need to strengthen Hong Kong’s role as a “super-connector”, which is the cornerstone of its position as an international financial centre.
I believe that Hong Kong will continue to be a capital and talent hub for mainland China and the rest of the world, as long as we take advantage of the huge opportunities in the mainland market, maintain our renowned legal system, and play by the rules of the international market.
After the gradual relaxation of Hong Kong’s epidemic prevention measures since the fourth quarter of 2022, market sentiment has become much more positive. Visitors and investors from around the world have returned to Hong Kong after more than two years and participated in several major events. At HSBC, members of the Board of Directors visited Hong Kong late last year and members of the Group senior management in March.
Over the past few months, I have visited cities in the Middle East, Singapore and mainland China to meet with businesses, investors, regulators and other stakeholders. Apart from sharing the latest developments in Hong Kong after the pandemic, I introduced ways to connect with global opportunities. A case in point was the institutional investors and enterprises in the Middle East. While they have much to learn about Hong Kong, clients in Hong Kong are keen to explore investment opportunities in the Middle East.
The recovery in travel has been rapid. According to the Hong Kong Tourism Board, the number of visitors to Hong Kong in the first two months of this year exceeded 4 million, a year-on-year increase of more than 380 times, with more than 70 per cent of them coming from mainland China. While the growth rate is impressive, there is still a long way to go to return to pre-pandemic levels.
Still, I remain optimistic about the outlook. It is my conviction that economic activity will pick up steadily, enabling Hong Kong’s economy to recover healthily. From the Hong Kong Art Month in March and the Wealth for Good in Hong Kong summit, to the Hong Kong Sevens, and the scheduled opening of the Kai Tak Sports Park in 2024, the soft power of culture and sport is essential to Hong Kong’s position as an international financial hub.
Hong Kong’s strength as a global financial centre is best demonstrated by its role in the reform and opening up of China’s economy. For more than 40 years, Hong Kong has been helping enterprises and investors in mainland China to “go global”. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the listing of state-owned enterprises (SOEs, H-shares) in Hong Kong, for the purpose of meeting their financing needs through Hong Kong’s international capital market.
Enterprises also wanted to enhance corporate governance and align with international standards. Currently, H-shares account for 12 per cent of the Hong Kong stock market. When H-shares, red chips and private enterprises are all included, mainland enterprises account for 76.5 per cent of the market capitalisation and 87.4 per cent of the turnover of Hong Kong stock market. This is solid proof of Hong Kong’s ability to connect mainland China with the world. With the emergence of technology start-ups in mainland China, it is expected that they will play as dominant a role as SOEs do today.
I am honoured to have participated in the opening up of mainland China’s capital markets. HSBC, for example, became a Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (QFII) 20 years ago, and has promoted the internationalisation of Renminbi (RMB) and participated in the first mutual access initiative – the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect. Launched nine years ago, the initiative has now been expanded to include bonds, exchange traded funds (ETFs), financial products and risk management tools (the upcoming Swap Connect). It is expected that both investment quotas and asset classes will gradually be expanded in the future, diversifying investment portfolios of mainland enterprises and individuals, as well as international investors.
Given the size of the Chinese market, it has not been easy to take it from near complete closure to gradual opening and internationalisation. During this process, Hong Kong has become the world’s largest offshore RMB centre.
I believe that Hong Kong will continue to be a capital and talent hub for mainland China and the rest of the world
Aside from its international financial credentials, Hong Kong’s greatest strength lies in the implementation of One Country, Two Systems. When Premier Li Qiang attended the China Development Forum 2023, he stressed China’s determination to further open to the world. Hong Kong must continue to develop its role in this regard.
This coincides with HSBC’s vision of opening up a world of opportunity, as we leverage the strength of our international network to help our clients grow their businesses and achieve their goals.
HSBC was founded in Hong Kong in 1865 in response to the increasing trade flows among Europe, India and China. Over the past 158 years, despite many economic cycles and many financial crises, we have remained true to our business philosophy. Today we remain the world’s leading trade finance bank and payment solutions company. Meanwhile, our foreign exchange business is among the top three in the world. Nearly half of our global corporate clients now have different cross-boundary wealth management needs, while our wealth management and personal banking businesses have 6 million international clients. From an operational perspective, these clients generate more than twice the revenue generated by local clients in the same business.
In March, there have been significant challenges in global financial markets. I understand that investors are concerned about the stability of the financial systems, and the turmoil reaffirmed that banks must not sacrifice long-term interests for short-term benefits. At HSBC, our vision, our values and our strategies are all about the long term. It is my responsibility as management to uphold the reputation that the bank has built up over the years.
A global network is not built overnight. We value what we have and will not be tempted to pursue short-term gains, such as boosting short-term share price performance, at the expense of the steady and reliable returns we have consistently delivered to shareholders.
The foundation of any bank operation comes from trust. Through our prudent approach, we have gained the trust of our clients, investors, regulators and other stakeholders over the years. As Hong Kong’s leading financial institution, we are committed to protecting the financial system and strengthening the city’s position as an international financial centre. The participation of international financial institutions is crucial for an international financial centre to accelerate integration and support activities across different parts of the economy. Our responsibility is to continue to attract investors from around the world to ensure the economic and cultural vitality of Hong Kong.
A version of this article was first published in the Hong Kong Economic Journal.