Citigroup’s Hong Kong unit has turned dozens of former flight attendants and tourism industry employees, who lost their jobs because of the pandemic, into bankers as part of its hiring spree. The US bank recruited 1,000 new employees in the city, including 300 mainly for its wealth management division last year, which saw the lender lock in a substantial number of new clients. Citi’s expanded workforce helped the lender to post a slightly better profit in Hong Kong in 2021 compared with 2020, which was driven mainly by wealth management, consumer banking, markets and securities services business. A small percentage of the overall headcount included tourism sector employees, said Angel Ng Yin-yee, Citi’s Hong Kong and Macau chief executive, without providing details. Citi has provided training to these tourism industry recruits as part of its initiative, which has proved to be very successful, she added. “These former airline and tourism industry workers may not have banking work experience, but they know how to provide clients with good service,” Ng said, adding that bank branches were now both a sales and services centre where their talent can be put to good use. This year Citi plans to hire another 600 to 700 new employees, she added. The bank now has 4,600 staff, making it the largest foreign lender in Hong Kong. Besides Citi, insurance companies such as AIA, Prudential and Manulife have also come to the rescue of the thousands of laid-off flight attendants and tourism sector staff, providing them with training to help them develop a new career in the financial sector, which is suffering from a shortage of talent. The Securities and Futures Commission lost 12 per cent of its staff last year, compared with 5.1 per cent in 2020, it said last week. Hong Kong’s market regulator is not alone, as local banks too have complained about staff shortages in recent months. Financial firms said stringent quarantine and travel rules that are part of Hong Kong’s relentless pursuit of a “zero-Covid” policy had deterred visitors and cut off their supply of skilled labour. The city’s 14-day quarantine for all travellers has also pushed many expatriate staff to up sticks and leave. “We have lost international staff who have not seen their families for two years,” said Ng. “The tough quarantine rules also means that international talent is reluctant to come to replace these vacancies.” Ng said besides hiring locally, Citi would continue to look for international talent to replace the nearly 700 expatriate and domestic staff who left last year. Asian Citigroup unit fined US$45 million by Hong Kong’s SFC Citi’s stronger workforce helped it to clock an 11 per cent year-on-year growth in the number of new credit card customers. Mortgage related income rose 20 per cent, while the number of retail investment customers also rose 20 per cent in 2021 from a year earlier, Ng said. Its consumer wealth management business – Citi Gold and Citigold Private Client – recorded an 11 per cent annual increase in clients last year. Citi’s investment banking arm helped corporate clients raise US$34 billion from the capital market last year, pushing it back into the top three in the investment banking rankings. One-third of the deals were related to green financing. The Wealth Management Connect scheme, which from September has allowed investors in the Greater Bay Area to buy investment products from Hong Kong banks and vice versa, has got off to a slower than expected start, Ng said, noting that this was mainly because of the closed border that has restricted travel. Looking ahead she said that the fifth wave of the coronavirus outbreak will be a major challenge for the bank this year, while the expected US interest rate increases this year will also bring volatility to the stock and bond markets. “However, the opportunities in wealth management, Greater Bay Area and ESG financing will become the growth engines,” Ng said.