Banks activate International SOS to inform staff travelling in Hong Kong

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Banks activate International SOS to inform staff travelling in Hong Kong

As we end the fourth day of protests at Hong Kong International airport, banks in Hong Kong are activating emergency procedures to keep staff informed and safe. 

“Once we received news [about the airport disruption] yesterday, we immediately shared what International SOS had informed us regarding the situation in Hong Kong,” says a manager at a European bank in Hong Kong, refering to the world’s largest medical and travel security services firm. “All colleagues have the International SOS number to contact in case of emergencies.”

OCBC has advised “employees who are travelling to Hong Kong on the current situation and what they should do”, says a spokesman for the firm. “This includes precautions and actions that they should take when unrest occurs in their vicinity – such as to monitor ground transport systems, and to avoid routes impacted by protests.”

The move comes as many international banks have decided to temporarily suspend non-urgent staff travel in and out of Hong Kong, following the disruption caused by peaceful protests at the city’s airport. As at Tuesday evening, the airport was closed to outbound flights and open for some inbound flights – but banks’ restrictions apply even to in-bound traffic, and they were also in force earlier today when a limited number of flights were actually taking off.

About 200 flights were cancelled Tuesday. It’s unlikely that banks’ travel bans will be immediately lifted even presuming the airport returns to normal later this week. Many bankers support the protests, irrespective of their implications for client meetings. 

“All non-essential travel has been stopped,” says a banker at Societe Generale, who asked not to be named. “This is a necessary hindrance – not just for bankers flying in to meet bosses at our APAC headquarters in Hong Kong, but also for bankers wanting to fly out,” he adds. SocGen did not respond to a request to comment.

Staff at another European bank were immediately told to “postpone non-essential business trips” when protestors began to flood the airport terminal yesterday, says a senior manager there, who asked for his name and company to remain anonymous. “Our colleagues have been advised, via intranet and email, to take all necessary precautions to ensure their safety – they are also encouraged to stay safe by avoiding crowds,” he adds.

There remains fairly widespread support for the protest movement within Hong Kong’s financial services community. Several bankers and finance recruiters we spoke with were critical of the police response to the protests, and said the Hong Kong government isn’t doing enough to address the protesters’ concerns.

“Most Hongkongers and expats in financial services are supportive of the movement, both in terms of the immediate humanitarian aspect and also because they want Hong Kong’s socioeconomic system to remain independent,” says a senior Hong Kong-based headhunter.

Some finance professionals were caught up in the airport disruption on Monday before their employers had caught wind of it and could advise against travelling. “Lots of my colleagues, clients and banker candidates were stuck at the airport yesterday and had to reschedule their plans,” says the headhunter.

It's not clear when the protests will end. BBC news reports that images from inside the airport appear to show protestors building barriers with luggage trolleys.

Photo by Marco Cheng on Unsplash

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