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
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.
"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.