Financial chief dabbles in fancy ideas while real issues ignored

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 July, 2008, 12:00am

Islamic bonds, oil futures, a new commodities exchange - these are just a few of the fancy ideas dreamed up by Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah to strengthen Hong Kong's position as a financial hub.

The problem is our financial chief is getting so carried away with the fancy stuff that he has forgotten about the nuts and bolts of what makes a financial centre tick - like having the right talent in place to handle the regulation.

The contract of Securities and Futures Commission chief executive Martin Wheatley will expire at the end of September. Yet the government has not yet announced whether he will stay on or go.

A government spokesman was not exactly forthcoming with a reason for the delay, saying it 'would make an announcement at the appropriate time'. This seems a haphazard approach for such a senior position.

Senior executives usually need at least three to six months to renegotiate new contracts and if negotiations break down, there needs to be substantial time to find a replacement.

With Mr Wheatley's contract ending in three months, does he want to stay and do we have enough time to find a replacement if he does not? It took more than six months of searching and a complicated selection process to recruit Mr Wheatley from the London Stock Exchange in June 2005.

It seems the government likes to make last-minute announcements about the SFC. Mr Wheatley's deputy, Alexa Lam, was reappointed executive director of the commission for three years from March 1, but the government only announced the decision on February 29.

We have to ask why the government is giving such short notice on these reappointments. Having the right talent in place is a far more important element to ensure Hong Kong's position as an international finance centre, than nebulous plans for Islamic finance or oil markets.

Mr Tsang reacted far quicker last week when he welcomed the creation of the Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange - a commodities exchange which plans to launch a fuel oil contract in the first quarter of next year.

However, in the excitement Mr Tsang seemed to forget something - the Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange has not received approval from the SFC.

Debunk the junk

When does junk mail become downright insulting mail? When it comes from French-based insurer AXA, which some would say lacks sensitivity to customers' feelings.

A former policyholder, who is a colleague of mine, said that when the insurer cancelled his wife's policy earlier this year after she had a major operation, he thought he had heard the last of the insurer. He certainly didn't want to hear from them again as they left him and his wife high and dry without any insurance cover and no rights of appeal under Hong Kong law.

But last month, a bright and breezy letter from AXA appeared in his letter box inviting him to sign up for travel insurance. Was this an administrative oversight or do the powers that be at AXA really expect my colleague would wish to spend another cent on AXA insurance?

An AXA executive explained his company fully understood my colleague's hard feelings, but said it was willing to offer other products to meet the financial needs of policyholders.

Podcast guest

This week's video and podcast guest is Louis Gave, a co-founder and chief executive of GaveKal Holdings, a leading independent investment research provider in Asia.

Today will mark a milestone for the company as his firm is setting up a joint venture with British hedge fund company Marshall Wace.

The new venture, called Marshall Wace GaveKal Asia, will be responsible for managing GaveKal's three existing Asian absolute return funds together with Marshall Wace's Asian equity long/short funds.