JOHN Bond, chief executive of HSBC Holdings, has been lecturing the folks back in the UK about how pathetically complacent they are about education. John noted that the average British bank teller wasn't qualified to get an equivalent job in Hong Kong. What he didn't say was that quite a few of his firm's own management could not get a job as a bank teller in Hong Kong either. These days, to be a teller in Hongkong Bank an applicant generally has to have two A-levels. The bank's old guard often left school at 16, and didn't get any. Even David Eldon, who has just been named as the man supposed to take Hongkong Bank through to 2000, doesn't have any. He is therefore going to be running a bank that these days wouldn't employ him as a counter clerk. We told him it didn't seem to have done his career any harm. 'It's been very hard work. I would not under any circumstances recommend anyone trying it,' he said. David left school with O-levels in Maths, English literature, English language, and History. Interesting to note, banks on continental Europe almost always have someone with a doctorate running them, yet still need regular state bailouts, reorganisations, protection from creditors and so forth. Over at HSBC, quite a few of the bosses will have fewer academic qualifications than their secretaries, yet it is often ranked as the world's most profitable bank. We promised David we would include the following comment, just to ensure that kids don't start using his example as an excuse not to do their homework. David states: 'I spend most of my time these days telling my children 'Don't try to get away with what I did'. ' Them and us NO shortage of qualifications over at Bank of East Asia, where chief executive David Li Kwok-po has so many letters after his name that his business card must roll up to fit in his pocket. David also has lots of jobs, which has given him a reputation of leaving meetings before they end. We were therefore rather bemused to get a call from a reader who had overheard two Bank of East Asia managers grumbling about a recently installed timecard system. They have to clock in and out - and not just junior bank employees. Oddly, they overheard the managers say with some glee that they didn't have to clock in and out at lunchtime. They could therefore take a long lunch and the bank's time system would know nothing about it. Just friends Far Eastern Economic Review , the journal of choice in university common-rooms across Asia, had a big conference in the Convention Centre yesterday with an unusual sponsor - cigarette firm Philip Morris. None of the speeches, as far as we could see, related to smoking and there were no under-16s attending. So why sponsor it? There weren't even any free cigarettes being handed out at the entrance, which is not surprising given that the conference hall itself is a no-smoking venue. Unmortgaged K C Kwok of Standard Chartered Bank was at this same Far Eastern Economic Review /Philip Morris conference looking at the residential property market from an unusual viewpoint - the viewpoint of people who actually live in residential property. One factor affecting the market is that we are falling in love less often - or, to be precise, getting married less often, which is on reflection completely different. There are fewer people of romantic age in the first place, and those young people we have are becoming less and less keen on being married. K C flashed up a slide showing that in 1984 there were about 53,000 marriages a year, whereas last year there were around 38,000. That means 15,000 fewer marriages, 15,000 fewer new families, and perhaps 15,000 flats which are now unoccupied. That's one reason so many blocks in Ma On Shan and Junk Bay look ghostly. In fact, 15,000 flats translates into 47 blocks of 40-storey flats lying empty. Be prepared? A PASSENGER travelling back to Hong Kong on Virgin Atlantic wandered off to the refreshment trolley and discovered a big group of cabin crew serving passengers drinks. After receiving her mineral water she noticed that although wearing an official T-shirt, the staff weren't wearing the rest of the uniform. It turned out that they were a group of Royal Marines sponsored by the airline coming here to compete in the Dragon Boat races. Delighted by the sponsorship, they'd decided to make themselves useful during the flight.