Finding it hard to retire

For a man who is retired, Carlson Tong Ka-shing gives a lot of time as non-executive chairman to the Securities and Futures Commission

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 February, 2013, 5:45am

When Carlson Tong Ka-shing retired two years ago as KPMG's chairman for China and Asia-Pacific, he was hoping to spend more time on the golf course and with his family. But those ambitions were dashed when he became non-executive chairman of the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC).

"I have been spending up to four to five days a week at the SFC, which is not much different from a full-time job," said Tong with a laugh in his first interview since taking up the role in October.

But Tong has no complaints about the busy schedule.

"I do not mind working hard. I am pleased to be able to make a contribution to Hong Kong if I can help to improve our society and our market as a whole. I am happy to work for the SFC and continue with my other public duties," he said.

Tong rejected market speculation that he may join the government by becoming financial secretary. "I definitely have no interest in politics," he said.

He has another reason to be happy - the 58-year old father of three became a grandfather recently when his eldest daughter gave birth to a girl in November.

"Being a grandfather is great. Nothing can compare with the pleasure I get when I spend time and play with my baby granddaughter. She cannot speak now but I am looking forward to hearing her call me 'Gung Gung'", he said.

As well as his new role as a grandfather and chairman of the SFC, he also has been kept busy as chairman of the Hong Kong Sports Institute and the English Schools Foundation.

But it is the SFC that will take up most of his time as he works with chief executive Ashley Alder on regulatory reform plans and reviews. "I know Ashley from the days when I was a member of the takeover panel and I really enjoy working with him," Tong said.

On the "to do list" is new regulation of listed sponsors, the review of the regulation of investment-linked insurance scheme products and electronic trading platforms called dark pools.

SFC also has to work with Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing to enforce a new law that requires firms to disclose price-sensitive corporate information in a timely manner or face fines of HK$8 million.

He also has to review the SFC's structure to make sure it has the relevant resources to work with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange as it expands into commodities and derivatives trading after its acquisition of the London Metal Exchange.

Tong will also need to handle a "happy problem" faced by the SFC. Lawmakers have recently complained that its reserve of some HK$7 billion - equivalent to five years' operating expenses - is too much. Some have urged it to reduce the levy charged on investors which represents the Commission's major income source.

"This may not be the right time to cut our levy since the market is full of uncertainties," he said. "If the stock market stays at last year's average level of between HK$50 billion to HK$60 billion a day, the SFC will be making losses every year going forward in which case our reserve will come down to only two years of annual expenses in just four years."

Tong said that what is an appropriate levy therefore depends heavily on market turnover. "We would like to wait until the market becomes more stable before we decide if we should cut the levy, and if so, by how much," Tong said.

Tong said they are now in discussion with the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau to prepare a response to the recent Legco non-binding resolution asking the SFC to cut the levy.

Tong, a retired accountant who chaired the stock exchange's listing committee from 2006 to 2008, replaced Eddy Fong, also a retired accountant, who had been chairman of the SFC for six years. The chairman position was introduced in 2005 when the government split the executive chairman's post into two - a non-executive chairman and a chief executive - to add checks and balances to the regulator.

Tong is a home-grown success story. Born in Hong Kong, after finishing school he went to Britain in 1972 to study for a two-year business studies diploma in Cardiff, South Wales. He then signed a five-year articleship with a small accounting firm, earning a weekly wage of £10 to train as a chartered accountant.

And the rest is history. He joined KPMG UK in 1979 and came back to Hong Kong permanently in 1985. Since then he has been involved in auditing major clients and working on initial public offerings, climbing all the way up the corporate ladder to become KPMG's China chairman in 2007 and Asia-Pacific chairman in 2009 until he retired in 2011.

At home, he gives credit to his wife Gill, whom he met in Cardiff.

"My wife has supported me in every stage of my life. She is not very happy with my present busy schedule at the SFC and I have promised her that I will take at least one day off each week. I will also make sure I spend the weekend with my family," he said.