HSBC offers two days' holiday as incentive for Hong Kong staff to get vaccinated

Other lenders also offer extra leave to boost inoculation rates among their workforce

The moves come after Hong Kong’s de-facto central bank urged financial institutions to follow the government in giving extra days off to vaccinated staff. Reuters
The moves come after Hong Kong’s de-facto central bank urged financial institutions to follow the government in giving extra days off to vaccinated staff. Reuters

HSBC and other major banks and brokers operating in Hong Kong are doling out cash credits, free stocks and days off to get more people vaccinated after authorities in the financial hub leaned on companies to revive a faltering inoculation drive.

HSBC, which employs more than 20,000 in the city and counts Hong Kong as its biggest market, is giving all vaccinated staff two days off, according to a spokeswoman. Other lenders including BOC Hong Kong, Standard Chartered and Hang Seng Bank are also providing two days off to vaccinated employees.

With strict quarantine and social distancing rules, Hong Kong has been one of the best places in the world in containing the virus but its low vaccination rate compared with competitors such as New York and London is now emerging as a major risk. Asia on the whole is a laggard, even though China has lately ramped up its inoculations at a record pace.

Getting more people protected against the virus is crucial for the region, said Filippo Gori, JPMorgan Chase's Asia-Pacific chief executive officer. Otherwise, Asia risks becoming “segregated and separated”, he said on Wednesday in a Bloomberg Television interview in Hong Kong.

The moves come after Hong Kong’s de-facto central bank urged financial institutions to follow the government in giving extra days off to vaccinated staff. Hong Kong authorities are increasingly looking to enlist local businesses and entities to drive inoculations. The Beijing-backed government has struggled to convince residents in an atmosphere of mistrust following widespread anti-China protests in 2019. A low rate of infections has also left many in the city sceptical on the need to get inoculated.

“In supporting the government’s vaccination leave measure, we will introduce the same for HSBC Hong Kong,” the bank said in an internal memo.

Local businesses are now responding to the call with goodies. Vision Finance is giving out free stocks worth as much as HK$1.5 million ($193,340) to vaccinated clients, while uSmart Securities is handing Sino Pharmaceutical and Pfizer shares to new clients that have received the shots. China Construction Bank (Asia) is offering as much as HK$128,000 in free spending credits as a lucky draw for customers.

Other companies, restaurants, and even colleges have started offering cash payouts, money for shopping and even the chance to win a $1.4m apartment.

JPMorgan’s Mr Gori said that while Hong Kong is one of the places where the bank can have more people in the office, he also wished that more of his staff would get inoculated.

“The region feels a little bit behind,” he said. “That’s one of the things I’m trying to address internally.”

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority on Tuesday urged all banks to “strongly encourage” staff in client-facing roles or support functions to get vaccinated. It also told banks to hand over a list of staff they expect to be vaccinated.

Many are now preparing to open back up after the city contained a fourth wave of the virus. Bank of America, which employs 1,600 people in Hong Kong, this week unveiled plans to get all of its staff back at their desks and encouraged its employees to get inoculated. The bank will also provide return-to-office training.

While bookings have surged since incentives were rolled out, the city’s vaccination rate is still meagre. About 13.8 per cent of Hong Kong residents have been fully inoculated, even though it’s one of the few places that offers shots for free to all adults, according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker. That’s well below the 29.1 per cent in London, 42.8 per cent in New York and 28.3 per cent in Singapore.

Japan and South Korea have rates of 2.7 per cent and 4.2 per cent, respectively.

Updated: June 2, 2021 11:34 AM

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