Published: 01:02, September 22, 2022 | Updated: 09:22, September 22, 2022
Talent localization crucial to strengthening HK’s financial sector
By Henry Tan

The 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) clearly stated that Hong Kong must strengthen its position as an international financial center and develop into an international innovation and technology (I&T) hub. Talent is the key to success. 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily driven some of our talents away, dealing a blow to many industries, the financial sector in particular. To maintain Hong Kong’s role as a leading financial hub, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government must formulate forward-looking talent policies to win out in the fierce global war for talent.

One further observation of the current situation in the financial sector is that global financial services, including those prospering in Hong Kong, are dominated by US and UK players. While a good mix of international and local players in the financial sector is essential, local firms and talents, both from the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong, have been underrepresented in Hong Kong, especially in sectors such as fund management, trustee, investment banking, accounting, consulting and legal services, etc. Such a phenomenon, regardless of its historical or structural causes, has become more and more of concern in recent years in light of the calls for upward social mobility for our younger generation as well as the strained Sino-US relationship. Faced with strong, dominant foreign competitors in the cutthroat commercial battlefield, local firms find it harder to gain market share to enjoy the benefit of growth in the sector, or even to simply survive.

There is a need for Hong Kong to raise the overall representation of local firms and talents in the financial sector. Local financial services, defined as locally registered companies with the majority equity stake or control in the hands of Hong Kong or Chinese-mainland entities, should be fostered. I propose that the HKSAR government direct its agencies and public entities with government funding, such as universities, NGOs, the Hospital Authority, the Urban Renewal Authority, the Airport Authority, etc, to use local service providers in terms of banking, asset management, securities brokering, trustee services, etc. It could make it compulsory for those entities with average financial assets exceeding HK$200 million ($25.5 million) to allocate a minimum of 30 percent of their financial assets, both cash and non-cash, to be serviced by local providers within a target of three years. A designated senior government official should be appointed to take up the responsibility of coordination and oversight of the progress. Meanwhile, both the public and private sectors should be encouraged to adopt local supporting service providers for their local and overseas activities. Financial incentives will be conducive, but more importantly, these measures can help local firms gain visibility and widen their markets.

Local financial-service firms have a stronger inclination to recruit local talents, and as these firms grow, they will have more resources to cultivate them. Hong Kong’s financial industry has been attracting a huge number of foreign expats who usually have a better career ladder compared with local talents. It is time to enhance the career prospects for local staff to accelerate localization of the financial sector. The HKSAR government should incentivize employers to train, foster and promote local talents so that locals will experience a more favorable career development, which is crucial to the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong.

In view of the shrinking birth rate, we must explore new ways to expand our talent pool for all industries as well. It is highly recommended that we put our eyes on luring non-Hong Kong students by easing current visa regulations. At present, non-Hong Kong students studying in Hong Kong universities or on their mainland campuses, and those taking up overseas joint-degree programs, are provided with a one-year work permit after graduation. I believe that there should be more lenient criteria for non-Hong Kong students applying for work permits, such as flexibility in job levels and work types, and they should be allowed to have more days outside Hong Kong if they have frequent outbound business trips or work for Hong Kong-registered companies. The HKSAR government can further lower the bar for permanent residency application for these students by incorporating their study period or aforesaid out-of-Hong Kong work period into the fulfillment of the seven-year primary-residency requirement. Under this proposal, students who attend campuses outside of Hong Kong or attend overseas joint-degree programs will also be included in the potential talent pool of Hong Kong without an extra burden to Hong Kong’s accommodations.

Being privileged with the advantage of “leveraging the strong backing of the Chinese mainland while engaging with the world”, Hong Kong is in a great position to attract talents from all over the world. Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu has signaled that the upcoming Policy Address will shed light on the issue of talent. His ambitious proposal is widely expected and welcomed by the business community. I believe, upon further relaxation of quarantine requirements for travelers when the pandemic is under control, both new and old talents will come to Hong Kong and join us to revitalize the economy and build a great future for the city together.

The author is a Hong Kong deputy to the National People’s Congress and chairman of the Textile Council of Hong Kong.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.