American banker now proud to be a Chinese national
George Chen and Ray Chan
China's rise has not only transformed the global financial industry, it has encouraged one American banker to trade allegiance from the stars and stripes to the five-star red flag - and a Hong Kong passport.
Marshall Nicholson, a managing director in charge of investment banking in Hong Kong for China International Capital Corporation (CICC), told colleagues and friends this week that he had renounced his US citizenship.
Hong Kong's financial community was surprised by the announcement in an e-mail from the veteran investment banker on Tuesday night.
"I am very proud to say I have become Chinese," Nicholson said in the e-mail, which was seen by the South China Morning Post. Nicholson, whose wife is a Hongkonger, came to the city 11 years ago from the US after working for JP Morgan and Merrill Lynch.
Before taking up his post at CICC, he worked for BOC International (BOCI), Macquarie and Credit Suisse in Hong Kong.
"I am quite happy with my decision but it is not a decision to take lightly," Nicholson told the Post. "It is my renewed but continuous commitment on a professional level to China and the clients overall. Plus, I feel my home is here now."
News of Nicholson's decision met a mixed reaction from his fellow bankers. Many of his Chinese colleagues at CICC were quick to congratulate him. Others suggested that the move may been more for tax reasons as Hong Kong is well known for its low personal income tax rate capped at 15 per cent.
When BOCI hired Nicholson as vice-chairman of its investment banking business six years ago, he was one of the first senior foreigners to be hired at a mainland financial institution.
Since then, other mainland firms such as China Construction Bank and Citic Securities, the mainland's top brokerage, have grabbed more foreign bankers as Beijing pushes to make its domestic industry leaders more international.
"I have more than 20 years in investment banking and capital markets, half of that time in the US and the rest in Asia," Nicholson told the Post. He said he had already officially received naturalisation as a Chinese national and would soon get his passport of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
Any foreign national with permanent resident status in Hong Kong can apply to the Immigration Department for naturalisation as a Chinese national and an HKSAR passport.
Nicholson is not the first foreigner in Hong Kong to become a Chinese national, but it is rare in the banking world. Entrepreneur Allan Zeman renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2008 and Mike Rowse, former director of InvestHK, gave up his UK passport in 2001.
According to the Hong Kong Immigration Department, 1,274 foreigners - mostly citizens of other Asian nations - applied for naturalisation last year, 5 per cent more than in 2011. By November last year, about 12,700 naturalisations had been approved since the handover in 1997.