HONG KONG has been home to some firsts in wholesale banking over the past 20 years, and Robert Roberts, retiring head of HSBC Capital, has been in the thick of much of it. Mr Roberts, 48, HSBC Capital's managing director, has been in the Hong Kong market as it has evolved from a dynamic but small entrepot into the financial juggernaut it is today. In consequence, he has taken part in many innovative deals that were precursors to many now taken for granted in the loans market. When he first arrived in Hong Kong about 20 years ago, there were virtually no high-rise buildings behind Hutchison House, then something of a landmark. He is turning his back on the changed Hong Kong skyline to take early retirement, and plans to spend the rest of his time shuttling between a cottage in Phuket and a three-bedroomed ski chalet in Graechen in Switzerland. Among the deals he sees as particularly original is the first syndicated Euro note facility in the world, a US$500 million deal arranged for the New Zealand Government, Mr Roberts says. He was involved in the first Hong Kong dollar commercial paper programme - this time the client was the Mass Transit Railway Corp (MTRC) in the early 1980s. The first loan with transferable loan certificates was done in Hong Kong in 1984, as the market looked for new and more flexible financing instruments. In 1987, Mr Roberts was involved in a step-up bond arranged for the MTRC - another first. One of the bigger deals was the Black Point financing, in which he put together a US$900 million tranche of a project worth ultimately US$2.4 billion. He has worked on power station financings in China, Thailand and the Philippines - 'and every single financing has had a different structure'. Mr Roberts says he was considering a change in lifestyle for some time before he actually took the plunge, and submitted his resignation. He was partly influenced by his wife, also a banker, who took early retirement 18 months ago. 'We have 50 years' experience between us, and we think it is time to look at all the other things in life.' He plans to retain links with HSBC Capital as a consultant, working on long-standing deals that are yet to be completed. 'We have many transactions which are ongoing,' he said. 'We have many client relationships which are long-standing. For Mr Roberts, banking is above all 'a relationship business'. Hopewell Holdings and Gordon Wu represent one example of how relationships develop. 'I met him in 1980 at a luncheon. It was a free-for-all seating arrangement, and I sat next to this man and it turned out to be Gordon Wu. He was talking about a superhighway in China,' Mr Roberts said. Mr Roberts gave the 'superhighway' no more thought until he ended up in Shenzhen looking at plans for the development of the city from little more than a village. The plans included Mr Wu's superhighway and 'I thought I'd better talk to him', Mr Roberts said. He subsequently became involved with Hopewell Holdings' Shajiao C financing. 'I got involved in 1983, and it took three years of my life,' he said. But he plans to spend most of his time doing the sort of things that most businessmen are too old to dream of when they finally retire. Among them are activities like getting around the globe - he has been to Antarctica this year on a Russian icebreaker and spent two weeks on the ice. Mr Roberts and his wife are keen scuba divers, and Mr Roberts plans to dive with Australian shark expert Rodney Fox, who was called into help with the original Jaws movie. He is also considering driving around Australia's rugged outback, and has secured an extended visa. Driving down Alaska's Hiram's highway, which is not for the faint-hearted, is also an option. He plans to climb - his Graechen chalet overlooks a spectacular view of the Swiss Alps. 'Maybe I'll climb the Matterhorn,' Mr Roberts said. 'I know it sounds crazy. But having been there [living part of the year in Switzerland], we've made a lot of friends who tell me that I'm capable of climbing it.'