Protest chaos leads to the most bank branch closings in Hong Kong’s history other than during typhoons

Enoch Yiu

A third day of violence and traffic disruptions by protesters in Hong Kong led 250 bank branches to close Wednesday the whole day – the most in the city’s history except during severe typhoons.

One in five branches of the 18 major banks, including all three note-issuing banks in the city – HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of China (Hong Kong) – shut their doors for the day. In addition, another 100 bank branches closed earlier than usual.

The troubling sign in one of Asia’s most important financial hubs occurred as protesters used bricks to smash the glass facade of the branch of the Bank of Communications (Hong Kong) on Pedder Street in Central. The crowd, including some people in suits, clapped when the glass broke.

The closed bank outlets represented about 19 per cent of all 1,300 branches in the city, based on banks contacted by the South China Morning Post and information posted on bank websites.

“In view of special traffic conditions, some bank branches in various districts in Hong Kong are closed today and services are suspended,” said a statement of The Hong Kong Association of Banks, which apologised to customers.

“Should customers need branch services today, they are recommended to call the bank hotlines or visit the websites to check the availability of the branch services.”

ATMs and online banking services remained available.

It was the second time in three months that a massive number of bank branches closed due to protests. On August 5, 230 bank branches closed either for part or all of the day due to a protest-related strike and demonstrations that also brought traffic to a standstill.

“Due to public events and partial suspension of transportation, services of individual banks may be subject to different level of disruptions at different times of the day,” a spokesman of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority said. “The HKMA reiterates that the Hong Kong banking system is robust and sound, with ample liquidity to meet the needs of the public.”

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Many MTR stations and roads were shut on Wednesday as anti-government protesters tried to paralyse traffic for the third straight day. They attacked trains and blocked major roads in Mong Kok, Yuen Long and Fanling. Shopping malls, such as Festival Walk, faced substantial damage on Tuesday night.

Hang Seng Bank, a subsidiary of HSBC, closed the most branches among all banks, shutting down 77 branches or outlets on Wednesday morning, including those in the city’s five universities and 15 inside MTR stations, according to its website. The bank's spokeswoman said 23 branches would reopen in the afternoon.

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HSBC, the largest bank in Hong Kong and Europe, did not disclose how many branches it had closed, but provided a list showing about 36 branches and premium centres remained open. The bank has about 100 branches and outlets in the city, meaning about 64 branches shut their doors on Wednesday. The bank said in the afternoon that all its branches would close an hour early, at 4pm.

China Citic Bank closed 17 branches on Wednesday, Chong Hing Bank closed seven branches, Bank of East Asia shut down 10 branches including four in the universities where the protesters have vandalised campuses in recent days, according to a spokesperson of these lenders in response to the Post’s enquiries.

Standard Chartered and China Construction Bank (Asia) each closed 14 branches, according to the website of HKAB.

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The website also showed OCBC Wing Hang Bank shut down nine branches for the whole day, while the rest of its 27 branches closed 30 minutes or an hour earlier. Dah Sing Bank closed eight branches, DBS Bank closed five branches and ICBC Asia shut down all of its 57 outlets.

Bank of China (Hong Kong), which has been targeted by protesters because of its mainland background, did not disclose how many branches closed on Wednesday. Its website showed it closed three branches on November 4. The bank did not reply to a Post inquiry on Wednesday.

Other closures included: Bank of Communications (Hong Kong) (two branches), Chiyu Banking Corporation (one branch), Citibank (three branches), CMB Wing Lung (three branches), Fubon Bank Hong Kong (two branches), Public Bank (Hong Kong) (one branch).

George Lau, a retail store supervisor in Sai Wan Ho, said the closing of his bank branch was a pain.

“I wanted to cash in a cheque from Standard Chartered Bank to pay for the services fee for a delivery company. However, the bank’s nearby branch was closed today so I could not get the money from the branch. It is inconvenient,” Lau said.

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