Christopher Cheung Wah-fung scores weighty Legco role

Veteran stockbroker Christopher Cheung wins key post as a legislator representing the broking industry, and loses some baggage in the process

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 September, 2012, 2:41am

For years, veteran broker Christopher Cheung Wah-fung struggled to lose weight. Recently, however, he has found an effective way to shed 13kg in weeks: joining the race for the Legislative Council.

The broker, who has been in the industry for 41 years, won a seat representing stockbrokers, futures traders and gold dealers. He replaced Chim Pui-chung, who occupied the seat for almost two decades and did not seek re-election.

"I lost 30 pounds in the several weeks of lobbying as I visited 300 brokers, whether their offices were in Central, Taikoo Shing, Mong Kok, or Tai Po," he said.

Cheung, 60, now weighs about 104kg, down from 117kg before the election.

"My doctor advises me to go down to 180 pounds for my health but that target is just too aggressive. I would be happy to be at 200 pounds or so," he said in his first interview after last week's election.

In the interview, Cheung vowed to keep his promise to lobby the government to introduce measures to help brokers survive an increasingly tough market, such as reinstating the minimum brokerage commission for transactions below HK$200,000.

"What is important is to make sure brokers compete in a fair environment with banks or foreign players," he said.

Cheung, who was born in Fujian, came to Hong Kong as a 10-year-old in the early 1960s to prepare to go to study in the Philippines, where his father was based. But the plan changed as the young Cheung could not speak the local language, so he ended up in secondary school in Hong Kong.

After graduating from high school at 19, Cheung entered the brokerage industry in 1971 by joining his uncle's securities company. He worked there for 10 years before setting up Christfund Securities in 1981 with initial capital of HK$1 million.

"When I set up the company, there were only four staff members, including one who later became my wife," he said with a laugh. The four-member team has grown to more than 70 and its clients now number 10,000, including many investors from his father's home in the Philippines.

"Many investors from the Philippines or other Southeast Asian countries like to invest in the Hong Kong market which has a relatively stable political situation. The many mainland firms listing here since the early 1990s also attract regional investors."

Like most brokerages, his firm has grown by client referral. Now, many banks and foreign firms offer internet trading, threatening traditional traders.

Cheung, however, believes brokers who offer quality services can survive. He said that while the number of brokerage houses ahs dropped from about 700 in the early 1980s to about 430, the number of staff working in the industry has reached 39,000, up from about 10,000 in the 1980s.

"Local brokers treat clients as friends. When clients win money in the market, we go for a meal together to celebrate. This is why I gained so much weight," he said.

"When they lose money, I comfort them and encourage them to try again next time. This type of personal touch could not be found in internet trading."

The veteran broker's investment tip is to buy high-turnover stocks.

"Only stocks with high turnover can drive prices up for the long term," he said.

Another golden rule, he add, was to sell losing stocks in a timely manner.

"People can buy stocks any time when they have money but they usually do not know when to sell them. Some people refuse to admit investment mistakes and keep the losing stocks for the long term pending a recovery. This is a wrong strategy," he said.

"A successful investor must be very disciplined in cutting losses. I will sell stocks when they fall five to 10 per cent more than my buying price. A quick cut-loss allows you to limit your loss and to free your liquidity from the losing stocks to bet on other stocks."

Reflecting on four decades as a broker, he said the market had changed substantially.

When he joined the industry, he used chalk to write prices on a blackboard and a telephone to take orders. Turnover amounted to several million dollars a day.

Now everything is done by computer and via the internet, and daily turnover can be as high as HK$200 billion.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Hong Kong brokers were highly respected by investors. The market was also not so competitive as banks did not do broking and foreign brokers only bought Hong Kong stocks through local brokers. Now banks offer stockbroking services while many overseas players also are competing in the market.

The tough market situation was why Cheung decided to run in the Legco election to fight for a better market environment for local brokers.

Cheung, who has one son, three daughters, and two grandchildren, plans to let his younger brother take over the daily operation of his firm so he can focus on Legco affairs.

In Legco, Cheung said he would vote independently.

"For issues that are related to the financial services sector, I will give priority to my voters' interests. For other public or social issues, I will cast my vote in the best interests of the public," he said.

But he said he would still spend time with his customers.

"The happiest moments in my life are to have a good meal with my customers and my friends. I like hairy crabs and other good food," he said. "This will not change even though I have become a legislator."