Mixed views on status of new finance council
The jury is out on the planned Financial Services Development Council, with some fearing overlaps in functions with other regulators and promotional bodies and others seeing an opportunity in it for Hong Kong.
The proposal to set up the council was part of the election manifesto of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. The idea was for it to be 'a platform for collaboration of the public and private sectors to advance Hong Kong's status as an international financial centre for the country and 'promote Hong Kong's financial services overseas'.
Leung last week appointed a five-member task force chaired by Executive Council member Laura Cha Shih May-lung (pictured) to set up the body. No time frame has been defined for the council's launch.
'The council needs to define a clear role to avoid overlapping with other promotional bodies such as the Trade Development Council (TDC),' Chim Pui-chung, legislator for the financial services sector, said. 'The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) has done a lot of promotion work on yuan and banking businesses while Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEx) organises its own road shows to attract mainland and international firms to list here. If this new council does the same, it will be a waste of time and money.'
Some speculate the council, the brainchild of the chief executive, could end up with excessive power and become a sort of super-regulator with oversight over all of the financial watchdogs in the city.
Cha, a veteran regulator who deputy chairwoman of the Securities and Futures Commission, shrugs off these concerns.
'The council is neither a regulator nor a government policy body,' Cha said.
'It will act as a bridge between the various financial services sectors and the government to seek ways to develop the industry and to promote it overseas.'
At present, Cha said, different parts of the financial services industry did their own promotional activities - the HKMA focused mainly on banking and yuan businesses, HKEx on listing, the TDC on trade-related matters, while the local brokerages and insurance companies had their separate promotions.
'The council could be a good, single platform to take an overall view. We would prevent overlapping and as such, we may have joint promotions with these organisations to perform a supplementary and complementary role,' she said.
The council could also act as a bridge between the government and the financial services to develop talent and remove bottlenecks hindering industry development.
'Almost all the major financial centres in the world such as the London, Paris, Frankfurt and Zurich have since 1980 had similar bodies to act as a platform to develop their overall financial services sectors. Hong Kong is now catching up,' she said.
'Even in Hong Kong, we have development councils for film, arts, ports and logistics. Why not the financial services sector?'
Cha said the preparatory task force would makes recommendations to the chief executive the year on the council's goals, terms of reference, operational model and the composition. But first, she and the task force will consult the various sectors of the industry to take stock of what they expect of the new council.
Various arms of the financial industry have come up with wish lists for the planned Financial Services Development Council
Sally Wong Chi-ming, chief executive, Hong Kong Investment Funds Association
The council should think more from the national perspective than just looking at Hong Kong. As China assumes a pivotal role in the global economy and the internationalisation of the yuan gains traction, Hong Kong should ask itself how its financial services industry can develop strategies that do not only contribute to the process but also enable it to capitalise on the opportunities. In addition, with the increasing affluence of mainland investors and with the gradual opening up of the mainland's capital account, the council should think of ways Hong Kong's asset management industry can better serve mainland investors.
Rex Auyeung Pak-kuen, Asia president, Principal Financial Group
I hope this new council can channel more overseas investment into Hong Kong. Furthermore, the fixed income market is still behind the equity market and as a pension company, more investment choices will always be welcome.
Mark Konyn, chief executive, Cathay Conning Asset Management
The council could follow overseas markets to see where and how they choose industries to develop by means of concessions and incentives. Often these relate to preferential tax rates and incentives to establish businesses.
Mike Wong Ming-wai, chief executive, Chamber of Hong Kong Listed Companies
A key question is how we can better utilise financial services to support our economic pillars. For example, if we are to develop our shipping industry further, can we develop more insurance and reinsurance products for the maritime sector? Another key function could be to help Hong Kong-listed companies expand into overseas capital markets. Just as more international companies are coming to Hong Kong for secondary listing, can Hong Kong companies do the reverse to enlarge their capital base? The council could take the lead in exploring these possibilities.