Banks back public access to directors' addresses and full ID numbers

HK Association of Banks says information on company directors should remain open to all

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 January, 2013, 4:36am

Banks have come out against proposed changes to Hong Kong company records which would hide the home address and full ID numbers of directors and secretaries from public scrutiny.

The Hong Kong Association of Banks raised the concerns in its submission on amendments to the Companies Ordinance.

The proposed changes would allow directors, upon payment of HK$55, to substitute a correspondence address for their home address on company documents and allow only part of their Hong Kong identity card number to be shown in the Companies Registry.

Boey Wong, the association's secretary, said the information should remain public.

The association, which represents licensed domestic and overseas banks, is a statutory body which advises the financial secretary on issues concerning the industry.

Wong said the association's members see benefits in allowing public access to the residential addresses and identity card numbers of directors and other relevant individuals maintained at the Companies Registry.

However, the association also appreciated there were privacy concerns, she said: "The association hopes that the government will put forward a workable arrangement which will balance these different considerations."

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority, which grants banking licences, said it was in talks with the banking industry to understand its concerns about the changes.

The Financial Services and Treasury Bureau, which is pushing for the changes, said they would not hurt the city's world-class reputation as a safe and reliable place to do business.

"The arrangement will allow financial institutions to obtain the correspondence address and part of the identification number, which should be sufficient for identifying a client," it said.

The changes were based on British regulations which also restrict access to specified public authorities and other bodies, it said.

"We will continue to gauge the views of the public to ensure that the protected information will remain accessible to persons with legitimate needs," the bureau said. The registrar of companies, Ada Chung Lai-ling, would make public the home address of a director only if communication through the director's correspondence address was "ineffective", it added.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data supports the proposed changes, due to start next year, subject to approval from lawmakers.

The office received two complaints about the Companies Registrar's disclosure of personal information in 2011 and 2012. One complainant withdrew their case and the other was dropped because no prima facie case was made, the office said.

Last financial year, 12.7 per cent of the registry's HK$483 million turnover was from search and copying fees, up slightly from 12.5 per cent the year before.