• Mon
  • Sep 22, 2014
  • Updated: 10:36am
Mr. Shangkong
PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 June, 2014, 3:08am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 June, 2014, 8:06am

Banking chiefs preoccupied with looming Occupy Central

Mention of protest movement is taboo as lenders spend time preparing plans to ensure all operations run smoothly in case event hits district


George Chen is the financial editor and columnist at the South China Morning Post. George has covered China's financial industry and economic reforms since 2002. George is the author of Foreign Banks in China. He muses about the interplay between Shanghai and Hong Kong in Mr. Shangkong columns every Monday in print and online. Follow George on Twitter: @george_chen

Even before protesters take action to occupy the city's financial and business district in Central, the pro-democracy Occupy Central movement has already taken up many working hours of top bosses at local and international banks as they prepare for the event.

Some bank executives describe the potential impact of Occupy Central on their businesses as a crisis similar to the time when the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) disease broke out in 2003, dealing a huge blow to Hong Kong and mainland economic development.

"Plan A is no plan - if nothing really happens, we don't need to deal with any emergency situation," said a senior executive at a local bank.

One of the banks used the codename "basketball game" in reference to the Occupy Central

"Plan B is that we do need a plan in case Occupy Central really happens in the coming weeks or months, and we need to think about how to make sure our customers can still get cash from our branches in Central, for example, and how to ensure that our staff can work normally in our offices in Central."

To organise Plan B and to keep updated on the latest Occupy Central developments, many bank chiefs have hosted regular weekly internal meetings.

However, the mention of "Occupy Central" itself is forbidden in internal communications at these banks, in particular in written form, sources said.

Instead, one of the banks used the codename "basketball game" in reference to the Occupy Central movement.

Even the Hong Kong Monetary Authority apparently dare not mention the movement.

The authority recently conducted a so-called emergency drill with 55 banks to test their back-up plans for business continuity. It did not mention Occupy Central in its press release about the drill.

"We don't want to give our clients an impression that we are really thinking that Occupy Central is going to happen and that will make our clients more nervous," said a banker, explaining why the mention of the protest movement is forbidden at his bank.

Some banks expect that the worst scenario could be that certain branches may be forced to shut for a few hours because of security and transport concerns, meaning that they have to immediately provide alternative solutions, such as providing a nearby secured location where customers can deposit, withdraw or transfer money on a timely basis.

Other banks also considered allowing their staff to work remotely, for example from their home, during the affected period. This is similar to what many banks did in response to concern over their staff's health during the Sars outbreak.

On the other hand, local and international banks have been under growing pressure to stay out of the political struggle in Hong Kong.

The New York Times recently reported that HSBC and Standard Chartered ended their long-time advertising relationships with the newspaper Apple Daily, widely known for its strong pro-democracy stance.

Both banks said the decision was made purely on commercial reasons.


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 facebook.com/mrshangkong


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This article is now closed to comments

this is a joke, have these people ever lived thru the strikes in other major international cities, paris, london u name it
life goes on, occupy central is just for a restricted area, people r clever enough to continue with the work that's necessary to be done.
All you need to know about our boy George Chen is here:


This post keeps getting deleted by SCMP for some reason. It is not defamatory. It is simply linking to accusations against George Chen regarding the accuracy of his resume. The person making this accusation is a Yale student named Erdong Chen who is of good character. It has been published as an editorial in the Yale school newspaper.

The comments on the Yale newspaper website seem to be overwhelmingly negative towards George Chen.
["We don't want to give our clients an impression that we are really thinking that Occupy Central is going to happen and that will make our clients more nervous," said a banker]

What a not-so-charming overestimation of a bank's importance to its clients. Do you really think that clients will let their judgement regarding the likelihood of OC happening depend on whether you put in the flower pots or not? Come on please.

Also, anybody who still thinks OC is not going to happen must be living in a cave on Cheung Chau.


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