Five banks keep 13 branches shut and hundreds of ATMs offline after vandals attacked China-linked companies in Hong Kong

Enoch Yiu enoch.yiu@scmp.com

Five banks, including two of mainland China's largest state-owned lenders, shut some of their branches and automated teller machines in Hong Kong on Tuesday after a long weekend of violence and vandalism sparked by protest rallies around the city.

The partial shutdown affected 13 branches and 330 ATMs across several districts in the city, about one in 10 automated tellers in one of the world's most over-banked urban centres, according to South China Morning Post's tabulation of data and press releases by the banks.

"Bank customers are advised to use online banking or ATM services as far as possible, and check bank branches service status before visiting," the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) said in a statement over the weekend when it disclosed that 330 ATMs had been vandalised. "Recent spate of vandalism and arson attacks have seriously affected the use of banking services by the public. Any form of vandalism and violence should be condemned."

The stoppage underscores how four months of unprecedented civic unrest continued to wreak havoc on Asia's financial hub, as tourists stayed away, retail sales dwindled and property prices declined, putting the city's economy on track to a technical recession in the fiscal third quarter that started on October 1. A long list of companies, especially those owned by mainland China investors, were the targets of rioters' retribution this weekend, as the city's public unrest morphed from an opposition to a controversial extradition bill into a general attack on China.

Bank of China (Hong Kong), the local unit of China's oldest lender and one of the city's three currency issuers, had been the hardest hit, as it bore the brunt of the protesters' wrath against any company deemed to be associated with the mainland.

The bank shuttered all but one of its 200 Hong Kong branches on Saturday as rioters vandalised its facilities, set fire and wrecked ATMs. Five branches in Causeway Bay, Mong Kok, Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan and Tsueng Kwan O remained shut on Tuesday after a public holiday, because the premises had sustained fire damage, the bank said, declining to divulge a financial estimate for the damage.

BOCHK and all major banks such as HSBC, Hang Seng Bank, ICBC Asia contacted by the Post all declined to confirm if any cash from ATMs was lost, but did confirm customers' assets at the banks' safe deposit boxes were safe.

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"We reiterate that our banknote supply remains normal and have stepped up our efforts to replenish cash for ATMs where practicable," said the bank, which operates 700 ATMs across the city. "We strongly condemn the radical violence against the bank. BOCHK will continue to spare no effort in contributing to Hong Kong's economic development, financial stability and people's livelihood."

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ICBC (Asia), the Hong Kong unit of the world's largest company Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), shut all 59 of its branches on Saturday, keeping four of them closed in Causeway Bay, Mong Kok, Yau Ma Tei and Yuen Long, because of damage sustained over the weekend.

"The branches had been seriously damaged in the past few days, and are currently undertaking repair works," ICBC Asia said in a statement on Tuesday."Upon inspection and evaluation, all safe deposit boxes of the bank, and the customers' assets and information remain safe. The operation of the bank also remains normal, with a strong financial position and ample liquidity."

China Citic Bank International, a unit of China's largest state-owned conglomerate, also suspended business at many of its 30 branches in the city on Saturday. Every branch of the bank resumed operation on Tuesday, but six damaged ATMs were halted.

Anti-government protesters damage a China Construction Bank branch following a rally in defiance of the anti-mask law issued by the government on October 5, 2019. Photo: Felix Wong alt=Anti-government protesters damage a China Construction Bank branch following a rally in defiance of the anti-mask law issued by the government on October 5, 2019. Photo: Felix Wong

Hang Seng Bank, established in Hong Kong in 1933 and now 62 per cent owned by HSBC, was also affected, closing three branches in Kwun Tong and Tseung Kwan O. HSBC, the biggest lender of the city, on Saturday closed most branches but resumed all operations on Tuesday. Bank of Communications said it had closed one of its branches in Tuen Mun.

Citibank, headquartered in New York, had not been caught by the anti-China backlash, but said it's closing its branches two hours earlier at 5pm.

The closures have had limited impact on banks' shares. Hang Seng Bank's shares rose 0.4 per cent in an advancing market to HK$165.20, while its parent HSBC rose 0.3 per cent to HK$58.45. ICBC's shares rose 1.4 per cent to HK%5.23. Bank of China (Hong Kong) fell 0.2 per cent in an advancing market to HK$25.85 while the shares of its parent closed unchanged at HK$3.06.

"Since most banking services have now moved online and are accessible by smartphones and computers, people do not need to go to their branches," said veteran stockbroker Cheung Tin Sang. "The damage of some branches are not seen as a problem."

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2019 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.