The world's local bank continues to thrive on traditional values

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 April, 2005, 12:00am

A colleague of mine once asked a United States banking executive to compare the strengths of his employer with those at HSBC, its largest global rival.

The executive replied that although his bank always managed to recruit and produce the brightest banking professionals, HSBC had an undeniable knack for consistency.

He added that HSBC was a highly structured institution that, while valuing talent, eschewed the untested.

Put simply, the bank does not like surprises.

Glamour and personality are fine traits for dinnertime display, thank you, but the world's local bank remains a quintessentially British institution, where stability and tradition trump the creative and chaotic.

Even charismatic Peter Wong Tung-shun, whose legendary charm made secretaries swoon at Standard Chartered, has suddenly taken a low profile since joining HSBC as executive director in February.

So, does this staid style extend to the product portfolio being offered by HSBC? Certainly at its insurance arm, dull and predictable are the only two flavours on the menu.

Consider the launch this month of the third tranche of LifeBond Plus, a rather standard policy combining term coverage with investment-linked returns.

Now that interest rates are trending up, the bank has been forced to raise the returns to a staggering 20 per cent - over eight years, that is.

Other than that, the new tranche is essentially the same as the first two launched last year.

Customers can opt to roll over either part or all of the returns and the coverage into another life insurance plan on maturity.

Low-risk, low-yield, and very predictable - just as HSBC likes it. After all, if it ain't broke, why fix it?

paranoia and patriotism

Some readers have expressed dismay at Money Week's habit of linking banking products to geopolitical issues, as if a grand conspiracy is afoot to paint political imagery on the canvas of the finance sector.

Money Week, a firm believer in inference and innuendo, stands by his assertions that certain offerings from Fubon Bank are inextricably linked to cross-straits affairs.

And this is not all. Take the latest tranche of HSBC's LifeBond Plus, for example. It is tied to the performance of the bank's Asian Growth Guaranteed Fund. This is based on a basket of four Asian indices - Hang Seng, FTSE/Xinhua China 25, Kospi 200 and MSCI Taiwan.

What? No Japan? Of course not. As a patriot, Money Week wholeheartedly recommends the product.

metals' magnet

Conservative as HSBC may be, it is downright avant garde when compared with ultra-conservative Deutsche Bank, well known among Hong Kong journalists to be the most media-unfriendly investment bank in town.

It must be admitted, however, that Deutsche Bank's 'Metal Drive Guaranteed Fund' - Hong Kong's first commodity-linked guaranteed fund for retail investors, launched this week - is indeed a bold move.

The fund offers exposure to the potential upside of four essential metals - aluminium, copper, gold and zinc - with 100 per cent capital guaranteed.

'Rising metal demand in Asia, especially China, and low inventory levels may provide a favourable outlook for metal prices,' said Ken Sue, managing director of the investment products group for Asia at Deutsche Bank.

He said that as correlation between the metals and other investment vehicles, such as equity, bonds and currency, was low, the fund offered retail investors an excellent means of risk diversification.

brave new product

Kudos for innovation and guts must go to Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, which on May 23 will launch new China-related index derivatives - the FTSE/Xinhua China 25 Index futures and options - despite the abysmal failure of similar products in the past. To boost interest in the derivatives, HKEx is waiving its three-month exchange fee and offering a six-month exemption from the Securities and Futures Commission levy.

Money Week cannot help but wonder, however, how much of a magnet this promotion will be, given that it results in savings of $6 on contracts valued on average at $400,000.