Coronavirus: HSBC to reopen Hong Kong office to all employees on Monday as fourth wave subsides

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HSBC, the city’s biggest currency-issuing bank, plans to reopen its offices to all employees in Hong Kong beginning on Monday as the fourth wave of Covid-19 infections subsides and a push to return to the office gathers steam globally.

Staff will be able to return to their desks subject to seating capacity plans in individual departments, the bank said in an internal memorandum seen by the South China Morning Post.

Like many of its rivals, the London-based lender has only allowed 50 per cent capacity in terms of office staffing in Hong Kong for more than a year as the coronavirus pandemic raged. The bank employs more than 20,000 people in the city.

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“Businesses and functions are encouraged to determine appropriate in-office and remote working ratios for their teams based on new ways of working,” the memo said. “As such, some departments may choose to maintain their current level of occupancy in HSBC premises.

An HSBC spokeswoman confirmed the contents of the memo on Friday.

Remote working is an option for Hong Kong employees who prefer to work from home for “personal or family reasons”, according to the memo.

HSBC is one of several global banks that have embraced flexible working plans. It said in November that staff, depending on their roles, could apply to work from home two to four days a week.

The company’s executive offices in its London headquarters has moved to an open plan office with no designated desks as it embraces a flexible working model, including at the highest levels, CEO Noel Quinn said in an April LinkedIn post.

Global banks and other businesses have been cautious about fully reopening their offices in Hong Kong despite generally lower infection rates than other parts of the world, in part because of the city’s restrictive quarantine policies.

Banks do not want entire teams to be sidelined from a single case.

HSBC, for example, was forced to close its main office in Hong Kong for several days in March after three employees tested positive for Covid-19 and a cluster at a gym frequented by bankers and other professionals forced hundreds of close-contacts into quarantine.

Hong Kong also lags other international financial centres in terms of vaccinations for the general public, with only about 22 per cent of the city’s population having received their first jab as of Friday morning.

HSBC was forced to close its main office in Hong Kong for several days in March after three employees tested positive for Covid-19. Photo: Sam Tsang
HSBC was forced to close its main office in Hong Kong for several days in March after three employees tested positive for Covid-19. Photo: Sam Tsang

That compares with 51 per cent of the US population, nearly 60 per cent of the general public in the United Kingdom and 40 per cent in Singapore.

The Hong Kong Association of Banks and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), the city’s de facto central bank, both encouraged financial sector employees this week to get inoculated.

The banker’s group is among several business leaders that have announced lucky draws to encourage more of the general public to take the jab, with giveaways ranging from shopping vouchers to a flat worth HK$10.8 million (US$1.4 million).

A chorus of voices is growing among senior bankers, including JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, to return to the office after more than a year of lockdowns and remote working in major cities.

HSBC’s CEO Noel Quinn. Photo: AFP/HSBC
HSBC’s CEO Noel Quinn. Photo: AFP/HSBC

JPMorgan told its US employees in April to be prepared to return to the office on a “consistent rotational schedule” from July. The bank has been rotating teams for more than a year in Hong Kong and is expected to open its offices in the city to 75 per cent capacity later this month.

About 75 per cent of Citigroup’s Hong Kong staff have been working on-site since mid-April and Bank of America is expected to fully reopen its offices in the city later this month.

At the same time, Hong Kong’s government recently expanded the scope of its quarantine exemptions to allow thousands of senior executives at Hong Kong-listed companies and in the financial sector to resume business travel.

The change has not been without controversy, with some business groups calling for the waivers to be expanded beyond the city’s biggest companies.

Matthew Ginsburg, Barclay Capital’s former managing director and head of investment banking, Asia-Pacific. Photo: Barclays Capital
Matthew Ginsburg, Barclay Capital’s former managing director and head of investment banking, Asia-Pacific. Photo: Barclays Capital

Meanwhile, HSBC is hiring Matthew Ginsburg, the Asia-Pacific chairman of Fitch Ratings, to serve as co-head of advisory and investment banking, Bloomberg News reported, citing people familiarpeople familiar with the matter. He will serve alongside Adam Bagshaw in the role.

Ginsburg, who previously worked at Morgan Stanley and Barclays, is replacing Peter Enns, who left this year to pursue a senior role outside banking. Ginsburg has been based in Hong Kong since 1992.

The hiring comes as HSBC prepares to move four senior executives to Asia and invest US$6 billion in the region as part of its latest pivot to Asia. The lender announced in May that it planned to sell most of its retail banking branches in the US as it focuses on serving wealthy clients and international businesses there.

A bank spokeswoman declined to comment on Friday.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg

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