Dozens of former stockbrokers at HSBC have recently found new jobs at two rapidly expanding Chinese investment banks in Hong Kong after they left the British lender over disagreements on salaries.
People familiar with the situation told the South China Morning Post about 50 former employees of HSBC's Asian securities unit in the bank's office in the city had signed new offers with BOC International (BOCI), the Hong Kong-based offshore investment banking arm of Bank of China, one of the Big Four state-run lenders headquartered in Beijing.
Meanwhile, more than a dozen of the brokers' former staff had joined the Hong Kong office of China Merchants Securities, said the sources, who declined to be named.
China Merchants has been aggressively grabbing experienced professionals from rival financial institutions in the past year and occupies two floors in Exchange Square in Central.
"[The former HSBC staff] are extremely unhappy with HSBC's decision to suddenly change their income package, and many of them have worked for HSBC for many years, so they are very experienced and know their clients very well," said one of the sources, who was involved in the hiring process for the mainland investment banks.
"In the financial industry, it's all about money. It's just that simple."
Late last year, HSBC announced internally that it would review its remuneration system for its Hong Kong-based brokers. The system went into effect early this year.
HSBC brokers, who used to be on a commission-based salary package linked to sales volume, now receive a basic monthly salary and a performance-based bonus.
Brokers who achieve high sales volumes could take home less income under the new system, which gave rise to tension between the bank and some of its high performers.
In the end, some chose to depart voluntarily, since the two mainland firms were apparently willing to pay more than HSBC.
An HSBC spokesman said the bank had introduced a new incentive framework last year for the retail banking and wealth management arm and account executives in its broking services in Hong Kong.
"The new scheme aims to reward our staff on client experience, sales quality and values measures in a globally consistent way by removing all product sales incentives," the spokesman said.
"This is not in any way an exercise to lay off staff."
Those who recently joined China Merchants and BOCI from HSBC include several former senior executives at managing director level, and they are expected to help China Merchants and BOCI find new customers, especially "old money" clients from wealthy local families.
BOCI is run by Li Tong, daughter of former propaganda chief Li Changchun. Her father was once ranked the fifth-most powerful official in the Communist Party.
China Merchant's parent company is China Merchants Group, one of the most important and capital-rich industrial enterprises controlled by Beijing.
The brokerage business in Hong Kong is at a crossroads. Some banks, like HSBC, apparently want to scale back their retail brokerage services, while others, especially mainland banks, which are relative newcomers to Hong Kong's capital markets, want to expand further.
Several small local brokerages have been forced to shut in the face of tough competition and low trading commissions.