Ashley Alder’s 11 years as chief executive of the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) is landmarked with initiatives to uphold the quality and integrity of the markets and maintain investor confidence. His announced departure in January to head up Britain’s financial regulator will leave a gap to be filled with a global search for a replacement. But it will also create an opening to be seized if Hong Kong’s markets are to meet challenges ahead to remain competitive. The city faces a difficult situation amid Covid-19 restrictions and China-United States tensions. Alder is the latest example of losses from management ranks at the SFC and Hong Kong stock exchange over the past two or three years. The loss of talent over time has done nothing for competitiveness and innovation. But the challenge of addressing these issues is a chance for fresh leadership to make a difference. Landmarks of Alder’s tenure include listing reforms that helped the city maintain its position as one of the world’s largest IPO markets – and the largest in seven of the last 13 years. He is also chairman of IOSCO, the global body of exchanges, a position he used to push for Hong Kong to take the lead in compelling listed companies to disclose ESG (environmental, social and governance) data. He has tightened enforcement against global institutions, slapping hundreds of millions of dollars of punitive penalties on dozens of investment banks for a number of offences, ranging from dereliction of duties to “dishonesty” in running their trading desks. Alder also deserve praise for strengthening Hong Kong’s pivotal role as a gateway to the mainland for global firms and investors in collaboration with Chinese regulators – a pillar of its future vision. That said, there is room for a shake up to pave the way for more initiatives to meet challenges. For example, Hong Kong is lagging in the huge ESG business, in which Singapore is very competitive. It is not simply a matter of attracting more companies to Hong Kong. Securities and Futures Commission CEO Ashley Alder to leave post in January The regulators have to shake off a perception of risk-averseness and be more proactive in updating policy, strategy and guidelines to give companies a sense of clarity. A number of new areas and initiatives need people with energy and ideas to drive them forward if Hong Kong is to retain a key element of its competitiveness. As Hong Kong hopes to attract more listings of Chinese companies, the new chief watchdog needs not only financial expertise, but also a sharp sense of geopolitics and a visionary grasp of the fast fluid global political and financial environments. To build on Alder’s achievements, therefore, his successor needs to bring fresh energy and creativity to the role, and the ability to think outside the box – an image that hopefully will help attract and retain talent in a globally competitive market.