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Hong Kong bankers try to dodge trouble as violence rocks Central

This was the week that the ongoing civil unrest in Hong Kong was brought much closer to home for bankers – clashes between police and demonstrators took place in the streets surrounding some of the city’s largest banks, and MTR closures caused travel chaos in Central.

While the recent skirmishes in Central may not have shifted opinions for or against the democracy movement or the Hong Kong government, they have made some Central-based banking professionals call for a peaceful resolution of the conflict amid new fears for their personal safety.

One banking professional says he can easily avoid groups of police and protestors in his own wealthy neighbourhood – as can most of his colleagues, who live in similarly tranquil parts of the territory – but it’s now much harder to evade either group when getting to and from work.

His comments follow the arrest of a Citi employee, reported to be a 38-year-old director working in capital markets, on Des Voeux Road on Tuesday night. The banker grappled with three police officers and was pepper sprayed and pinned to the ground. Video footage shows him in business clothes and without a face mask and the arrest took place some 500m from Citi’s Garden Road office.

“You don’t necessarily need to be a protestor to run into trouble in Central, at least not this week,” says the banking professional we spoke with, whose office is close to Citi’s tower and who regularly walks down Des Voeux Road himself.

For expatriate bankers, the recent violence in Central calls into question Hong Kong’s long-standing reputation for comparatively low levels of violent crime and high levels of personal safety, which have traditionally been among the city’s main attractions. In 2017, for example, Hong Kong had the third-lowest murder rate of any major economy (only Japan and Singapore ranked lower), according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

“I’m from London, where we’ve had terrorist attacks, acid attacks and knife-crime problems, so I’m used to living in a place with violent crime,” says one expat. “But in Hong Kong I thought I’d got away from that – perhaps not anymore,” he adds.

Meanwhile, a Hong Kong-based trader-turned headhunter called this week’s events in Central an “extreme further escalation” and said he closed his office from Monday afternoon and told staff to work from home. Many banks have also encouraged employees to work remotely since Monday, applying relaxed rules that have been in place since the start of the civil unrest in June. Banks, most recently Citi in response to the arrest of its employee, have also issued renewed safety warnings for staff travelling to and from work this week.

While these policies are welcome, they only go so far. Some bankers simply need to be in Central to do their jobs – and they’re hoping that the area isn’t targeted again next week. “Our work deadlines don’t get extended just because the roads are blocked,” a Central-based banker told us earlier this week.

Image credit: Jo Wing Ying, Getty

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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