Mr. Shangkong

Transparent hiring needed in equal opportunity Hong Kong

Banks that hire influential sons and daughters for their connections must also show that they are just as qualified as the next person to do the job

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 April, 2014, 1:19am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 April, 2014, 7:30am

In China, sometimes guanxi is more important than money. Actually, guanxi - relationships and connections - is equally important in the rest of the world too. Can you ignore connections when doing business in Washington or London? I doubt it.

In Hong Kong, especially in the city's financial industry, guanxi has made a difference for many banks and their clients in many cases.

To hire a son or daughter or even a mistress of a high-level Chinese official should not be a problem for a bank unless it is proven that the hiring is a breach of the bank's internal code of conduct or the hiring results in breach of market regulations and laws if the new hire misuses their connections to win business.

I believe the reason why the public has become more concerned about these "guanxi hirings" is more to do with growing distrust between the public and these employers - mostly international investment banks such as JP Morgan and UBS - over how such hirings, some of them politically sensitive, are handled.

In Hong Kong people believe in the rule of law and equal opportunity so when they read news reports about possible problems and loopholes related to these "sensitive hirings", many people will naturally ask themselves: Why can these sons and daughters, and even mistress get the job, and not me?

If the son or daughter of somebody has a good degree and some appropriate working experience, or something to prove that they are capable of the job, that's fine. Otherwise, the hirer must answer the simple question: Why hire him or her and not someone else without an important background?

Last week UBS was unexpectedly caught in the media spotlight in Hong Kong when one of its senior investment bankers, Helen Yang Lijuan, was alleged to have had an affair with the top boss of China Resources, one of the mainland's most important and powerful state-owned enterprises (SOEs), while at the same time helping him launder money. As one source told the South China Morning Post: "If you have an affair with an SOE boss, it's not an issue for your employer. But if the person also happens to be your client and you keep this relationship a secret, then it may be a problem."

In the case of UBS and China Resources, one of the most important SOE clients for UBS in China, it is naturally interesting for the public and press to seek answers to why UBS began to win various deals from China Resources after the bank hired Yang from its long-time rival Credit Suisse.

Credit Suisse used to have China Resources on its client list but the relationship quickly faded after Yang quit for UBS. For UBS, there are legitimate questions to answer concerning public interest as well as its image as a Swiss bank. Unfortunately, UBS has so far chosen to be silent on the whole matter.

Some may say silence is golden but in the case of these sensitive hirings, silence will only increase the distrust between the public and the employers and won't help make Hong Kong a more equal society in terms of job and business opportunities.


George Chen is the financial editor and a columnist at the Post. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in print and online. Follow @george_chen on Twitter or visit