Bank of East Asia

Hong Kong's family-owned banks struggle with succession as top executives age

Bank of East Asia, Wing Hang Bank among local lenders struggling with leadership transitions

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 July, 2013, 5:11am

Succession plans at family-owned banks in the city remain uncertain with top executives at Bank of East Asia and Wing Hang Bank already older than 65 years of age.

Human resources experts say that while white-haired bankers might have deep social networks as personal capital, they might be physically weak.

Preparations need to be made before seasoned bankers can step down from a business, especially a family-owned one, they say.

"The choices for the next boss of a family-owned business are always limited, as he must be a family member who is willing to take over control," said Alexa Chow Yee-ping, managing director of Centaline Human Resources Consultants.

Kevin Au Yuk-fai, director of the centre for family business at Chinese University, said: "It takes at least 10 to 15 years for the transition of leadership in a family business."

In contrast with other family-owned businesses, the banking industry is highly regulated, making succession planning more difficult.

Fan Choi, head of wealth planning at Coutts in North Asia, said: "Banks have to consider a lot of different aspects of the candidates and it takes a large amount of time."

Besides good education, a successor needs a lot of practical experience, Choi says, adding that "he or she needs coaching and mentoring from senior employees and executives to prepare for the role".

"There will never be a right time for retirement," Choi said, because the financial industry was dynamic, prone to crisis and subject to the regular tightening of regulation.

David Li Kwok-po, the 74-year-old chairman and chief executive of Bank of East Asia, the biggest family-owned lender by market value in the city, has seen his term as chief executive extended four times since he turned 60. According to the bank, he will keep the role until March 2015. Li's two sons, Adrian Li Man-kiu and Brian Li Man-bun, were both appointed deputy chief executives in April 2009.

Patrick Fung Yuk-bun, chairman and chief executive of Wing Hang Bank, turned 65 last year.

Another family-owned lender, Dah Sing Bank, completed its succession process two years ago. Harold Wong Tsu-hing, now in his early 40s, was appointed chief executive, succeeding Derek Wong Hon-hing, in his early 60s. Harold Wong is a son of David Wong Shou-yeh, the owner of the Dah Sing Group.

Chong Hing Bank appointed Felton Lau Wai-man as its chief executive in November after owner Liu Lit-chi retired, separating the ownership and management of the bank. Choi said such models worked when both the owners and management held the same values.