Hong Kong unit aims to help double profit of London parent Yesterday was Benjamin Hung Pi-cheng's first official day as the new chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank (Hong Kong), but he already has a vision: to help double the earnings of London parent Standard Chartered in five years. 'I hope the Hong Kong operations will continue to expand, thereby enabling the group to grow further,' he said. Standard Chartered's pre-tax profit grew to US$1.98 billion in the first half of last year, with a quarter of that coming from Hong Kong, up from US$1 billion for the full year in 2001. Mr Hung, 43, who joined Standard Chartered 15 years ago, succeeds Peter Sullivan, who retired last month. Mr Hung said Hong Kong could be further developed as a platform to capture business opportunities and channel other prospects to geographic areas where the group has coverage. Fast-growing economies such as China and India still had growth potential, as did business between the mainland and Africa, he said. Mr Hung added that Hong Kong could become an offshore yuan trading centre and an Islamic financial hub. He said the bank would continue to invest in Hong Kong at a similar pace to last year. Spending by the Hong Kong unit rose 16 per cent year on year to US$400 million in the first half of last year. It also hired an additional 500 to 600 people last year, bringing its headcount to about 5,000. Mr Hung said organic growth was still the bank's main strategy, but it would consider acquisition opportunities in areas that created synergy or in which the bank had little capability. He cited the acquisition last September of American Express Bank's banking unit, aimed at bolstering the group's private banking business. Mr Sullivan, his predecessor, left unfulfilled the goal of making Standard Chartered Hong Kong one of the city's top three lenders. It ranks fourth behind HSBC, Bank of China (Hong Kong) and Hang Seng Bank. 'If the bank's strategies are executed successfully, size will come as profit grows,' said Mr Hung, without giving a target. Standard Chartered's Hong Kong operations posted pre-tax profit growth of 12 per cent to US$514 million in the first half of last year, accounting for 25.9 per cent of the group's pre-tax profit. Mr Hung said he was confident the momentum could be maintained, with the possibility of a US recession the only uncertainty. On another key issue, Mr Hung said the bank hoped to maintain its note-issuing status in Hong Kong. Singapore's state-owned Temasek Holdings, the bank's largest shareholder, increased its stake to 18 per cent last month from 17.2 per cent, edging closer to the level that would disqualify Standard Chartered (Hong Kong) as a banknote issuer. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority said in July last year that banks would not be authorised to issue banknotes if more than 20 per cent of their shares were controlled by a foreign government. Mr Hung did not comment on whether Standard Chartered had been in talks with Temasek over its note-issuing status in Hong Kong.