When Tom Naratil arrived on Wall Street in the 1980s, work-life balance didn’t really exist. For most bankers of his generation, working long hours while missing out on family time wasn’t just necessary to get ahead, it was necessary to not be left behind.
But Mr. Naratil, now president of the Swiss bank UBS in the Americas, doesn’t see why the employees of today should have to make the same trade-offs — at the cost of their personal happiness and the company’s bottom line.
Employees with the flexibility to skip “horrible commutes” and work from home more often are simply happier and more productive, Mr. Naratil said. “They feel better, they feel like we trust them more, they’ve got a better work-life balance, and they’re producing more for us — that’s a win-win for everybody.”
Welcome to a kinder, gentler Wall Street.
Much of the banking industry, long a bellwether for corporate America, dismissed remote working as a pandemic blip, even leaning on workers to keep coming in when closings turned Midtown Manhattan into a ghost town. But with many Wall Street workers resisting a return to the office two years later and the competition for banking talent heating up, many managers are coming around on work-from-home — or at least acknowledging it’s not a fight they can win.
rolled out its plan last month to allow 10 percent of its 20,500 U.S. employees to work remotely all the time and offer hybrid schedules for three-quarters of its workers.
“Talent will move, and it’s not only about a paycheck,” he said.
said. Wells Fargo started bringing back most of its 249,000-person work force in mid-March with what it calls a “hybrid flexible model” — for many corporate employees, that entails a minimum of three days a week in the office, while groups that cater to the bank’s technology needs will be able to come in less often.
BNY Mellon, which has nearly 50,000 employees, is allowing teams to determine their own mix of in-person and remote work. And it introduced a two-week “work from anywhere” policy for people in certain roles and locations. “The energy around the office has been palpable” as employees eagerly map out their plans, said Garrett Marquis, a BNY Mellon spokesman.
Moelis & Company, a boutique investment bank, has strongly encouraged its almost 1,000 staff members to come to the office Monday through Thursday, but with added “intraday flexibility” over their hours, said Elizabeth Crain, the company’s chief operating officer. That might mean dropping children off at school in the morning, or taking the train during daylight hours for safety reasons, she said. The new approach fosters teamwork and enables employees to learn from one another in person, while also giving them more control over their schedules.
Ms. Crain said everyone was much more flexible. “We all know we can deliver,” she said.
Ms. Crain, who has worked in the financial industry for more than three decades, recently committed to something that would have been unthinkable before the pandemic: a weekly 9 a.m. session with a personal trainer near her office. She said she hoped that breaking out of the confines of the traditional workday sent a message to employees that they were trusted to get the job done while making time for their personal priorities.
said last month.
But he and Goldman’s David Solomon have welcomed efforts to get workers back into Manhattan offices. Mr. Solomon echoed Mayor Eric Adams at a talk at Goldman’s headquarters in March, saying it was “time to come back.”
Andrea Williams, a spokeswoman for Goldman Sachs, said returning to the office “is core to our apprenticeship culture” and client-focused business. “We are better together than apart, especially as an employer of choice for those in the beginning stage of their career,” she said.
For months, Mr. Dimon has made a similar argument at JPMorgan — and continued to even as he said about half its employees would work from home at least some of the time.
“Most professionals learn their job through an apprenticeship model, which is almost impossible to replicate in the Zoom world,” he wrote. JPMorgan has hired more than 80,000 workers during the pandemic, he said, and it strives to train them properly.
building a new headquarters in Midtown that will be the home base for up to 14,000 workers, will move to a more “open seating” arrangement.
Banks outside New York are also adapting: KeyCorp, which is based in Cleveland, hasn’t set a specific return-to-office date, but expects half its staff to eventually show up four or five days a week. Another 30 percent will probably come in for one to three days, with the ability to work from different offices. And 20 percent will work from home, albeit with in-person training and team-building events.
The new setup is “uncharted territory” that is necessary to keep the work force engaged, said Key’s chief executive, Chris Gorman. While he comes in every day and is a big believer in face-to-face meetings, Mr. Gorman said he had avoided a heavy-handed approach that could alienate employees and prompt them to look elsewhere.
Mr. Naratil, the UBS president, is also a believer in in-person gatherings — he still spends most of his week at UBS’s office in Weehawken, N.J. — but he said the great remote-work experiment of the last two years had debunked the myth that employees were less productive at home. In fact, he said, they are more productive.
The increasingly hybrid workplace has forced leaders to connect with their teams in new ways, like virtual happy hours, Mr. Naratil said. The rank and file have shown that they can rise to the occasion, and the onus is on bosses to attract workers back to physical spaces to generate new ideas and strengthen relationships.
Managers, he said, need to have a good answer when their employees ask the simple question: “Why should I be in the office?”
“It’s not ‘Because I told you to,’” he said. “That’s not the answer.”
In private, many senior bank executives tasked with raising attendance among their direct reports expressed irritation. They said it was unfair for highly paid employees to keep working from home while others — like bank tellers or building workers — dutifully come in every day. Salaries at investment banks in the New York area averaged $438,450 in 2020, up 7.8 percent from the previous year, according to data from the office of the state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli.
Two senior executives, who declined to be identified discussing personnel matters, said they might push out subordinates who are not willing to come back to the office regularly. Another manager expressed frustration about a worker who refused to show up at the office, citing concern about the virus — even though the person had recently traveled on vacation.
Executives “have not felt that they could put on pressure to get people back in the office — and those who have put on pressure have gotten real pushback,” said Ms. Wylde, of the Partnership for New York City. “Financial services is one of those industries that are hugely competitive for talent, so nobody wants to be the bad guy.” She expects that big financial firms will eventually drive workers back into the office by dangling pay and promotions.
For now, banks are resorting to coaxing and coddling.
Food trucks, free meals and snacks are occasionally on offer, as are complimentary Uber and Lyft rides. Dress codes have been relaxed. Major firms have adopted safety protocols such as on-site testing and mask mandates in common areas. Goldman, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup are requiring vaccinations for workers entering their offices, while Bank of America asked only inoculated staff to return after Labor Day. JPMorgan has not mandated vaccines for workers to return to the office.
At Citi, which asked employees to come back for at least two days a week starting in September, offices are about 70 percent full on the days with the highest traffic. Citi, whose chief executive, Jane Fraser, started her job in the middle of the pandemic, has hired shuttle buses so that employees coming into Midtown Manhattan from suburban homes can avoid taking the subway to the bank’s downtown offices. To allay concerns about rising crime in New York, at least one other firm has hired shuttle buses to ferry people a few blocks from Pennsylvania Station to offices in Midtown, Ms. Wylde said.
Remote working arrangements are also emerging as a key consideration for workers interviewing for new jobs, according to Alan Johnson, the managing director of Johnson Associates, a Wall Street compensation consultancy.
“We’ve taken the stance that we’re not going to ask employees to get vaccinated because of the sheer multiple who don’t want to get vaccinated,” said Mr. Lucanera, who is vaccinated. “If we demand for a lot of them to get vaccinated to come back to work, we are afraid they’re not going to come back.”
But as Covid cases have escalated, some of his unvaccinated workers have gotten sick. To cover their shifts, he has had to pay others overtime, which has been a drain on the company’s bottom line. Recently, he turned down a contract with a school district because he didn’t have enough officers to fulfill the request.
“It almost seems that whoever already doesn’t have it by this time has made up their minds,” Mr. Lucanera said. “If I put my foot down, will it hurt the company in terms of creating a bigger problem than we have?”
Still, for many unvaccinated workers, finding a new job is often not a desirable, or feasible, option.
Benjamin Rose, 28, who works at a global bank in the Chicago area, said his decision not to get the shot was “really just a cost-benefit analysis.” He contracted Covid-19 six months ago, he said, and a recent blood test showed he still had antibodies.
But because he is not vaccinated, his company requires that he work remotely even as it has begun to allow vaccinated employees back in the office. While he said he enjoyed the flexibility of remote work and was not opposed to vaccine mandates, he also did not want to feel like he was being coerced.
“I find it a little irksome how big corporations, the media and the government are all sort of this united front in pushing the vaccine so hard,” Mr. Rose said.
At the same time, he said, if his company instituted a vaccine mandate, he would likely comply.
“It’s not the hill I’m going to die on,” he said. “If it really became something that was going to strongly affect my career, I would probably just get it.”
Deals are rarely smooth, and an anomaly with Discovery’s share price dovetailed with the negotiations. Discovery’s stock began to inexplicably rocket in February and March to $75 from $45 because of a convoluted trading scandal involving Archegos, a little-known private investment firm that bet big on Discovery and other companies via derivatives using billions in borrowed money.
With banks forced to buy shares to hedge their spiraling exposure to Archegos, Discovery’s market value jumped nearly 60 percent, for no obvious reason to outsiders. But by May, the stock had returned to where it was during Mr. Zaslav’s initial approach, and the two sides ultimately forged a deal that gave 71 percent of the new company to AT&T shareholders and 29 percent to Discovery.
Now, the trick was closing it before word could leak out.
One awkward conversation awaiting Mr. Stankey was with Jason Kilar, the former chief of Hulu tapped by AT&T, with great fanfare, just a year earlier to lead WarnerMedia. To mark the occasion of his first anniversary on the job, Mr. Kilar had agreed — with AT&T’s blessing — to be profiled by The Wall Street Journal. He invited a reporter in late April to interview him on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, Calif., unaware that across the country, his colleagues were feverishly working to close the deal.
At some point during the week of May 3, Mr. Stankey dropped the bomb: He informed Mr. Kilar that the company would soon change hands, and it was unclear what Mr. Kilar’s role might be. The 2,600-word Journal profile of Mr. Kilar, which included a quote from Mr. Stankey, was published on May 14, three days before the deal was announced.
Usually a cheerful presence on Twitter, Mr. Kilar didn’t bother sharing the article with his 37,000 followers. By the weekend, Mr. Kilar had retained the entertainment power lawyer Allen Grubman to start negotiating his exit.
A little after 7 a.m. on Sunday, Mr. Zaslav boarded a corporate jet at a small airport on the East End of Long Island, not far from his home, to head to AT&T’s Dallas headquarters to put the finishing touches on the deal. But just over an hour into the flight, word got out through Bloomberg’s black-and-orange terminal screens: “AT&T is in talks to combine content assets with Discovery.”
HONG KONG — BlackRock gave it money. So did Goldman Sachs.
Foreign investors had good reason to trust Huarong, the sprawling Chinese financial conglomerate. Even as its executives showed a perilous appetite for risky borrowing and lending, the investors believed they could depend on Beijing to bail out the state-owned company if things ever got too dicey. That’s what China had always done.
Now some of those same foreign investors may need to think twice. Huarong is more than $40 billion in debt to foreign and domestic investors and shows signs of stumbling. The Chinese government, which has stayed quiet about a rescue, is in the early stages of planning a reorganization that will require foreign and Chinese bondholders alike to accept significant losses on their investments, according to two people familiar with the government’s plans.
Beijing has spent decades bailing out Chinese companies that got in over their heads, but in recent years has vowed to turn off the tap. While regulators have promised to make an example out of financial institutions that gorged on loans and waited for the government to foot the bill, Huarong is testing the limits of that resolve.
Unlike the handful of small banks and state-owned companies that have been allowed to fall apart, Huarong is a central part of China’s financial system and, some say, “too big to fail.” Its vulnerable status has left China’s leaders with a difficult choice: let it default and pierce investor faith in the government as a lender of last resort, or bail it out and undermine efforts to tame the ballooning debt threatening the wider economy.
highly unusual punishment that experts said was meant to send a message.
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Mr. Lai confessed to accepting $277 million in bribes, telling state television that he had kept $30 million cash in safes around his apartment in Beijing, which he referred to as his “supermarket.”
Chinese regulators fear the corruption shown by Mr. Lai has become so embedded in Huarong’s business practice that assessing the full extent of its losses and the collateral damage from a possible default is a challenge.
“The scale and amount of money involved in Lai Xiaomin’s case is shocking,” said Li Xinran, a regulator at the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.“This shows that the current situation of the fight against corruption in the financial sector is still serious and complex. The task of preventing and resolving financial risks is still very difficult.”
said that it would delay publishing its annual results in March. It delayed its annual results a second time last month, raising worries about the state of its financial health and its ability to repay investors.
Any situation where Huarong is unable to repay in full its investors would ripple through some of the world’s biggest and most high profile investment firms. As the international financial market grappled with that scenario, the bonds recently went into a tailspin.
This year alone, Huarong owes $3.4 billion to foreign investors. After it delayed releasing its annual results, the bonds sold for as little as 60 cents for every dollar. In Hong Kong, its stock was suspended.
It is already very late for a big corporate reorganization, said Larry Hu, head of the China economics desk at Macquarie Group. “Huarong has already become too big to fail,” he said. “It is no longer a fix to the problem, but the problem itself.”
The government’s latest plan, which has not yet been reported, is likely to roil China’s corporate market. Last month,the broader market for Chinese companies started to wobble as anxious investors began to consider a possible contagion effect.
Chinese companies owe nearly $500 billion in loans to foreign investors. A Huarong default could lead some international bondholders to sell their bonds in Chinese state-owned enterprises, and make it more difficult for Chinese companies to borrow from foreign investors, a critical source of funding.
Concerns about the company’s ability to raise fresh money prompted two ratings agency to put Huarong on a “watch” notice — a type of warning that means its debt could be downgraded, a move that would make its ability to borrow even more costly.
“There is no playbook for this,” said Logan Wright, director of China research at Rhodium Group, a consulting firm. China’s regulators are now faced with the challenge of following through with a promise to clean up the financial system while also preventing a possible meltdown, he said.
“You’re pitting Beijing’s new rhetoric that they are cracking down against the assumption that they will ensure the stability of the system,” he said.
The government is likely to inject some money into whatever reorganized company eventually emerges from Huarong’s difficulties, but it is not prepared to inject enough money to pay off all of the bonds, the two people familiar with the government’s plans said.
Even as the government crafts a plan to downsize Huarong, the company has sought to calm investors’ nerves, promising that it can pay its bills.Speaking to state media, Xu Yongli, vice president of Huarong, likened his firm to other critically important Chinese financial institutions.
“The government support received by Huarong is no different,” he said.
Alexandra Stevenson and Cao Li reported from Hong Kong and Keith Bradsher reported from Beijing.
Goldman Sachs became one of the first big banks to put an end to remote work on Tuesday, when it asked a majority of its workers in the United States and Britain to return to the office in June.
In a memo to employees, Goldman executives asked that workers “make plans to be in a position to return to the office” by June 14 in the United States and June 21 in Britain.
“We are focused on progressing on our journey to gradually bring our people back together again, where it is safe to do so,” said the memo, which was signed by David M. Solomon, the firm’s chief executive, as well as his two top lieutenants, John E. Waldron and Stephen M. Scherr. The executives said the bank was “now in a position to activate the next steps in our return to office strategy.”
Exceptions would be made where warranted, according to the memo, which noted that in India and Latin America, where Goldman also employs workers, the health challenges remained substantial. But in New York, where the bank has its headquarters, pandemic restrictions are being lifted on May 19 as coronavirus cases fall and vaccination rates increase. The city is expecting fuller offices, restaurants and subways over the summer.
JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s biggest bank, plans to open all its U.S. offices on May 17 for employees who wish to return voluntarily. A compulsory return will follow in July, when workers will rotate in and out of the office in accordance with safety measures that will limit capacity at each office.
Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s chief executive, who has previously spoken about the advantages of working from the office, reiterated his comments at a Wall Street Journal C.E.O. conference on Tuesday morning.
“We want people back at work, and my view is that sometime in September, October it will look just like it did before,” Mr. Dimon said. “And yes, the commute, you know, yes, people don’t like commuting, but so what.”
Mr. Dimon, who said he was “about to cancel all my Zoom meetings,” also acknowledged some pushback to the return-to-office news. “The wife of a husband sent me a nasty note about ‘How can you make him go back?’” he said.
Other banks have not yet mandated a return.
Citigroup has said that while it will invite additional workers back to the office in July, it expects to have only about 30 percent of its North America-based employees back by the end of the summer. Bank of America plans to issue 30-day notices to employees it wants to invite back, a spokeswoman said. The firm has not announced a schedule for doing so, although Brian Moynihan, its chief executive, said recently that the transition would not occur until after Labor Day.
The Goldman Sachs memo on Tuesday targeted the roughly 20,000 employees who are based in the firm’s New York headquarters as well as other U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Dallas, a person familiar with the figures said. Goldman employs another 6,000 or so in Britain, where it operates in London and another, smaller office, this person added.
Elliott may start a fight at GlaxoSmithKline. The big activist hedge fund has taken a multibillion-pound stake in the British medical and consumer products giant, DealBook has learned. The Financial Times, which first reported the news, said it came as other investors expressed worries that the company was underperforming, particularly in its drug pipeline.
Jeff Bezos lays out his legacy
Amazon published its founder’s latest letter to shareholders yesterday. It is likely the last such letter written by Jeff Bezos as C.E.O., since he plans to step down later this year and become executive chairman. In the letter, Mr. Bezos, the richest man in the world, laid out his view of Amazon’s impact during his 27-year tenure.
Mr. Bezos calculated the value he thinks Amazon creates for society. The total came to $301 billion last year, he said, with more than half going to customers (via time savings and the cost improvements of cloud computing), followed by employees (via compensation), third-party sellers (via profits from selling on Amazon) and finally shareholders (via the company’s net income). “Draw the box big around all of society, and you’ll find that invention is the root of all real value creation,” Mr. Bezos wrote. “And value created is best thought of as a metric for innovation.”
But “money doesn’t tell the whole story,” he wrote, and there is naturally a lot left out of such an expansive equation. If anything, using net income to measure Amazon’s value to shareholders understates its impact, since the company’s market cap grew by more than $700 billion last year. Elsewhere in the letter, Mr. Bezos noted that Amazon’s market value has grown by $1.6 trillion since its founding, which suggests that shareholders (Mr. Bezos among them) might rank higher — if not highest — in the accounting of who benefits most from Amazon’s operations.
Mr. Bezos said that Amazon’s goal is to become “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work.” He disputed the characterization of Amazon warehouse employees as “being treated as robots” (the jobs have been criticized over workplace safety measures during the pandemic, algorithmic management and productivity quotas), and highlighted Amazon’s $15 minimum hourly wage, which one study suggested led to increased wages at other businesses nearby.
Mr. Bezos also addressed the recent union election at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., which Amazon won by a wide margin. “Does your Chair take comfort in the outcome of the recent union vote in Bessemer? No, he doesn’t,” Mr. Bezos wrote, adding that Amazon needs to “do a better job for our employees.”
The letter ended on a philosophical note. “We all know that distinctiveness — originality — is valuable,” Mr. Bezos wrote. “We are all taught to ‘be yourself.’ What I’m really asking you to do is to embrace and be realistic about how much energy it takes to maintain that distinctiveness. The world wants you to be typical — in a thousand ways, it pulls at you. Don’t let it happen.”
“This is the healthiest we have seen the consumer emerge from a crisis in recent history.”
— Jane Fraser, the C.E.O. of Citigroup, reporting a tripling of profit in its latest quarter.
David Einhorn has thoughts
Greenlight Capital’s quarterly report is out and the hedge fund’s founder, David Einhorn, has a lot to say.
He blames Chamath and Elon for the GameStop frenzy. “The real jet fuel on the GME squeeze came from Chamath Palihapitiya and Elon Musk, whose appearances on TV and Twitter, respectively, at a critical moment further destabilized the situation,” Mr. Einhorn wrote.
He questioned Mr. Palihapitiya’s intentions in joining the trading craze. “Mr. Palihapitiya controls SoFi, which competes with Robinhood, and left us with the impression that by destabilizing GME he could harm a competitor.” (Mr. Palihapitiya’s SPAC announced a deal to acquire SoFi in January, which Mr. Palihapitiya disclosed in his tweets about Robinhood.)
He’s not a fan of payment for order flow, which is how Robinhood makes money on free trading. It’s “just disguised commission,” Mr. Einhorn said.
Strength in the banks’ investing, lending and trading businesses added to the euphoria. All three reported robust revenues across multiple lines of business, driven by a combination of active and rising markets, a flurry of new mortgage activity and the boom in special-purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs. Corporate merger and acquisition activity also marked an all-time high by dollar value.
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Goldman — a dominant player in corporate advisory services and in markets — reported a doubling of revenue to $17.7 billion, from $8.7 billion, thanks to double-digit percentage gains in investment banking, money management and markets. JPMorgan reported a 14 percent rise in revenue to $33.1 billion from $29 billion, driven by both markets and investment banking.
Wells Fargo’s revenue rose 2 percent, buoyed partly by a 19 percent jump in home lending, as Americans migrated away from cities and into more suburban or rural areas. The results “reflected an improving U.S. economy,” but low interest rates and sluggish demand for loans were a “headwind,” said Charles W. Scharf, the bank’s chief executive.
The banks have been major — if somewhat unintended — beneficiaries of the government’s spending push over the last year that sought to keep the shock of virus-related economic shutdowns from sending the economy into a long-term tailspin.
A little over year ago, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to near zero and restarted its bond-buying programs, effectively injecting trillions of freshly created dollars into financial markets, which helped bolster activity in mortgages, corporate bond issuance and deals.
Since then, stock markets have soared more than 80 percent, amid a boom in trading that crested this year. Both factors helped banks, which have businesses that buy and sell shares for clients. Goldman’s equities business made $3.7 billion in revenue in the first quarter, up 68 percent from last year. JPMorgan’s stock markets business notched $3.3 billion, up 47 percent.
Looking forward, several banks spotlighted the impact of recent infusions of stimulus checks on consumer accounts — a component of roughly $5 trillion the federal government has allocated to fighting the crisis over the last year. The influx of federal dollars has helped put the finances of American households on some of their firmest footing in years, bankers said, adding that there are growing indications consumers are eager to put the cash to work.
When these sorts of companies enact work-life policies, why don’t they seem to stick?
Look at the reward structure. You have an OK base salary, but then the bonus is allocated based on how you’re stacking up at the end of the year against your peers. It’s like a tournament. It’s like a race. And all you know is that the people next to you, against whom you will be measured, are just as smart as you. They work just as hard. And so the only lever you have is try to outwork them. These reward structures perpetuate this work ethic.
When an organization says “we value work-life balance, we want our people to not work on weekends, we want blah blah blah” — there is still this competitive structure where people have an incentive to work all they can because others are doing the same thing, and only winners get rewarded.
Churning through talent may work for a company. But you found that many employees choose these grueling schedules, even when they come at great personal cost. One associate told you: “I work hard because I want to.”
The people who get hired at banks have been through performance competitions all their lives. When I talk to students at the beginning of their undergraduate career and ask them, “what do you want to be?” very few want to go into banking.
So what happens? When these firms descend onto campus, people start competing because that’s what they have been conditioned to do throughout their lives. They chase after what everyone else chases after, regardless of whether they actually care about the work. Regardless of whether there are consequences or not, these people want to win.
This is maybe the final part that locks people into these intense work schedules. It is the idea that there is a cadre of individuals who are the best and brightest, and if you don’t keep up the pace you’ll end up at some kind of second-tier firm — part of an undefinable “rest.”
What’s so bad about that?
The people in the best and the brightest group, they have opportunities, they earn a lot, they work with other interesting people, they work on global deals. The rest push paper with uninteresting colleagues and over time, you’ll become like them. That’s what people sincerely believe. They believe that if you don’t work for an elite organization, you fall into an abyss of personal social status descent.
HONG KONG — Political opposition has been quashed. Free speech has been stifled. The independent court system may be next.
But while Hong Kong’s top leaders take a tougher line on the city of more than seven million people, they are courting a crucial constituency: the rich. Top officials are preparing a new tax break and other sweeteners to portray Hong Kong as the premier place in Asia to make money, despite the Chinese Communist Party’s increasingly autocratic rule.
So far, the pitch is working. Cambridge Associates, a $30 billion investment fund, said in March it planned to open an office in the city. Investment managers have set up more than a hundred new companies in recent months. The Wall Street banks Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley are increasing their Hong Kong staffing.
“Hong Kong is second only to New York as the world’s billionaire city,” said Paul Chan, Hong Kong’s financial secretary, at an online gathering of finance executives this year.
erupted two years ago. At the same time, it is trying to charm the city’s financial class to keep it from moving to another business-friendly place like Singapore.
“It is a one-party state, but they are pragmatic and they don’t want to hurt business,” Fred Hu, a former chairman of Goldman’s Greater China business, said of Chinese officials.
For apolitical financial types, the changes will have little impact, said Mr. Hu, who is also the founder of the private equity firm Primavera Capital Group. “If you’re a banker or a trader, you may have political views, but you’re not a political activist,” he said.
flowed out of local Hong Kong bank accounts and into jurisdictions like Singapore.
Tensions run taut inside Hong Kong’s gleaming office towers. Even executives who are sympathetic to the government have declined to speak publicly for fear of getting caught in the political crossfire between Beijing and world capitals like Washington and London. Hong Kong’s tough rules on movement in the pandemic may also spark some expatriates to leave in the summer once school ends.
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For now, however, financial firms are doubling down on Hong Kong. Neal Horwitz, an executive recruiter in Singapore, said finance was likely to remain in Hong Kong “until the ship goes down.”
carried interest, which is typically earned by private equity investors and hedge funds. Officials had discussed the plan for years but didn’t introduce a bill until February, and it could pass in the coming months through the city’s Beijing-dominated legislature.
sparked criticism elsewhere, including in the United States. But Hong Kong fears a financial exodus without such benefits, said Maurice Tse, a finance professor at Hong Kong University’s business school.
“To keep these people around we have to give a tax benefit,” he said.
Hong Kong has also proposed a program, Wealth Management Connect, that would give mainland residents in the southern region known as the Greater Bay Area the ability to invest in Hong Kong-based hedge funds and investment firms. Officials have boasted that it would give foreign firms access to 72 million people. Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials signed an agreement in February to start a pilot program at an unspecified time.
Pandemic travel restrictions have slowed the proposal’s momentum, said King Au, the executive director of Hong Kong’s Financial Services Development Council, but it remains a top priority.
“I want to highlight how important the China market is to global investors,” Mr. Au said.
Mainland money has already helped Hong Kong look more attractive. Chinese firms largely fueled a record $52 billion haul for companies that sold new shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange last year, according to Dealogic, a data provider. New offerings this year have already raised $16 billion, including $5.4 billion for Kuaishou, which operates a Chinese video app. The record start has been helped in part by Chinese companies that have been pressured by Washington to avoid raising money in the United States.
triple its hires across China, and a spokeswoman said a Hong Kong staff increase was part of that. Bank of America is adding more people in Hong Kong, while Citi has said it will hire as many as 1,700 people in Hong Kong this year alone.
hew to the party line. Still, it is considering moving some of its top executives to Hong Kong, because it will be “important to be closer to growth opportunities,” Noel Quinn, HSBC’s chief executive, said in February.
Investment funds are flocking to Hong Kong, too, after officials in August lowered regulatory barriers to setting up legal structures similar to those used in low-tax, opaque jurisdictions like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. Government data shows that 154 funds have been registered since then.
Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, and Li Zhanshu, the Communist Party’s No. 3 official, at one point owned Hong Kong property, according to a trail that can be traced partly through public records.
While officials have welcomed business, they have made clear to the financial and business worlds that they will brook no dissent. In March, Han Zheng, a Chinese vice premier, praised the stock market’s performance and the finance sector in a meeting with a political advisory group but made its limits clear.
“The signal to the business community is very simple,” said Michael Tien, a former Hong Kong lawmaker and businessman who attended the closed-door session. “Stay out of politics.”