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Morning Coffee: Safety concerns as video emerges of Citi director in Hong Kong, and the fired trader who is suing to get his job back

Although investment bankers would, by and large, prefer to avoid the politics of street protest, there are some times when you can’t be sure that the politics of the street will avoid you.  In Hong Kong, at present, where investment banks have more reason than in many other jurisdictions to avoid political controversy, things have reached a point at which many firms are realising that it’s not necessarily possible to act as if it was business as usual.  At some point, the physical safety of the bankers and their families has to become the priority.

Obviously, nobody is organising marketing trips or deal roadshows to Hong Kong right now.  But since there are now skirmishes between protestors and police erupting unpredictably across the city, including in the business district, even routine meetings or those already organised are being cancelled, according to “safety memos” issued by banks like BNP Paribas and Standard Chartered.  But the trouble is, even if the office is on lockdown, bankers still need to get to and from work.

This seems to have turned into a problem for one Citigroup employee in a widely circulated mobile phone video.  The clip is here and it’s quite scary viewing, albeit subject to all the usual caveats that it’s difficult to verify the location of the video or the translation of Chinese dialogue and we don’t know what happened before or after the filming.  There seems to be some argument between the banker (who says he works in the “Directorate” of Citibank and that his office is 500 metres away) and a police officer over whether anyone was “taunted”, and matters quickly escalate, then the banker tries to break free and run for it when he realises that the handcuffs are definitely going to go on, leading to a scuffle which retrospectively becomes the reason for arresting him. 

This is not the sort of risk that banks are really set up to deal with – according to a Citi spokesman they are “investigating further” and don’t intend to make any comment, and although an outsider might be tempted to get judgey, it’s hard to blame them – whatever the story of what happened in the video clip, it’s highly unlikely to help anyone, least of all the other staff, for Citi to start publicly taking sides. 

However, what the video makes clear is that being an employee (potentially even a relatively senior one) of a foreign bank isn’t necessarily going to keep you safe from arrest, any more than being a partner at Cleary Gottlieb is going to save you from getting burned if you’re caught next to a conflict where people are throwing acid around.  All the bankers can really do is keep their heads down, because unless and until the problems in Hong Kong either turn into a crisis or go away, the markets will still need to open and close every day and people with transactions to make will still need them to be executed.  We can all just thank our lucky stars that most of the time the biggest risk any of us will face is that of losing someone else’s money.

Elsewhere in the world, if you thought your employer had publicly fired you for a criminal conspiracy of which you were innocent, would you want to go back to work for them?  Think about this for a minute, because as Rohan Ramchandani might tell you, the correct answer is not necessarily the obvious one.

It all turns on one of our favourite points of London employment law – the fact that unfair dismissal damages are capped at the quite low level of £74k unless discrimination can be proved.  In many cases, that means that anyone on a banker’s salary is only going to find it worth their while to bring a case if they think they can establish discrimination, otherwise the compensation will not be worth the time out of the market.

But, as another FX trader (David Fotheringame) showed earlier this year, there’s another way for a banker to win.  The courts, who are more used to dealing with normal unfair dismissal cases than the particular culture of banking, are quite willing to make orders requiring reinstatement.  Although these usually come at a significantly lower salary than a senior banker will be used to, investment banks are often amazingly reluctant to obey them, for obvious reasons, and will sometimes pay decent compensation to make the problem go away (or at least Barclays did in the case of Fotheringame).  So it can make sense to pretend, for a while, that you’d love to go back to a workplace that you left on the worst imaginable terms.

Meanwhile …

“We have started to realize we need to arm ourselves. We are in a war — there is no other choice,” said Kelvin, a 33-year-old accountant. “We can’t just be sitting ducks anymore.” (Washington Post)

Someone at KPMG has been going to the toilet in the sink. (ThisisMoney)

Brevan Howard’s latest AI foray appears to involve some programmers with hardly any financial background at all – the principals of Kvasir Technologies got into the quant world in order to trade their personal savings as a sort of hobby while working at data management specialists Teradata.  They “always start from an economic intuitition” though.  (Bloomberg)

Bank of America Merrill Lynch has taken back the overall title of “top research house” from JP Morgan in the global II rankings.  It’s notable that nearly all the top firms now have some kind of alt-data capability to lead their offering. (Institutional Investor)

Would you rather be chairman of one of the world’s largest industrial consumer goods companies, or a really small private equity and advisory firm?  Marijn Dekkers has left Unilever to concentrate on the life sciences boutique he founded, Novalis. (Novalis)

The aftershocks from Google’s labour disputes rumble on, with employees being fired and suspended over breaches of corporate data policy (Bloomberg)

The fascinating field of “data sonification” – the translation of chart data into pitched notes to form a kind of musical representation that can be interpreted by the vision impaired.  No suggestion, though, of using a constant rising or falling tone as a trendline so that people can do technical analysis. (FT)

He’s given similar views before, but Sergio Ermotti once more emphasises that European – and Swiss – banks may be too small to be viable in the banking market of the future, and appears to still be holding the door open for consolidation if the right deal comes along (Reuters)

 Photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash

AUTHORDaniel Davies Insider Comment
  • H0
    14 November 2019

    The banker was stupid and arrogant. He thought that speaking English to the police would make him above the law. He should cooperate with the police, and call a lawyer to get him free. Instead, he tried to escape, and beat a policeman with a baton snatched from the policeman. The banker may have to face jail sentence and loses his job. This episode is an excellent example of what not to do when dealing with police.

  • Ho
    Hong Kong Count Me In
    14 November 2019

    Thanks for highlighting the Hong Kong Story. But as a local following news everyday, there is no acid thrown. More likely bricks and metal rods fight of protesters and the middle age pro-govt triads. :)

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