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Hong Kong bankers work from home to avoid chaos in Central

Many banking professionals in Hong Kong worked from home today as protestors and police clashed in the streets just below their banks’ skyscrapers in Central. Those who did commute into work faced horrendous train disruptions.

Although Hong Kong’s civil unrest has been ongoing since June, demonstrations haven’t usually taken place during weekday working hours in Central, where banks such as JP Morgan and Bank of America have their APAC headquarters. Today, however, more than 1,000 protesters, many wearing face masks and crouching behind umbrellas, rallied in a so-called ‘flash mob’ in the financial district. There were similar scenes yesterday when police in riot gear fired tear gas and protestors blocked roads near banks’ offices. “The protests have escalated and become much harder to avoid this week for staff in Central,” says Benjamin Quinlan, a former UBS banker who now runs a finance consultancy in Central.

Despite the chaos in Central, some bankers put in full working days on Monday and Tuesday. “We just get on with our lives,” says a banker who works in Queens Road Central. “Our work deadlines don’t get extended just because the roads are blocked this week,” he adds.

However, this banker walks to work, while most of his counterparts take the MTR, which suffered from suspended services and station closures today and yesterday, causing workers in Central to clog footpaths as they queued for buses and taxis. Another Central-based professional says it took him three hours to get to work on the MTR today. “The tear gas and destruction in Central is sickening,” he says, adding that he then left work after just two hours to avoid rush-hour disruptions.

Other finance professionals in Central avoided the MTR completely today and worked from home. Many banks relaxed their policies on remote working when the protests began about five months ago. This week, firms such as HSBC, UBS, Goldman Sachs and BNP Paribas sent notes to employees cautioning them to take care during commutes and asking them to coordinate with managers if they have problems reaching the office. “I closed my own office today and yesterday, and a lot of banks have advised staff to work from home,” says Quinlan.

Working remotely would seem to make sense on days when there’s unrest in Central. As we reported earlier this month, banking professionals in Hong Kong typically live in wealthy suburbs that are unaffected by the demonstrations.

The clashes between police and protesters in Central, and the ensuing travel problems have also affected recruitment processes for bankers this week. “Interviews and meetings have all got cancelled or postponed. We tried coming into the office, and got stuck midway through our commute,” says one Central-based finance recruiter. A trader-turned headhunter adds that while some of his staff did get to work this morning, he later decided to send everyone home early.

Not every employee in Central wanted to avoid today’s confrontations. Some of the pro-democracy demonstrators today were reportedly wearing office clothes, suggesting that some of them may have been finance professionals who work in the area.

Image credit: Joseph Chan, Unsplash

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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