Bank of America executive quits Hong Kong as exodus continues

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Bank of America’s co-head of global capital markets in Asia-Pacific is leaving Hong Kong after less than two years, as severe pandemic restrictions prompt an exodus of executives from the territory.

Craig Coben, who moved to Hong Kong in 2020 after 15 years in banking in the US and London, will return home to London and retire from banking, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Coben is the highest departure from the bank’s Wall Street Asia headquarters as more than two years of travel restrictions and severe quarantines force global companies to reconsider their operations in Hong Kong.

Bank of America, the second-largest U.S. bank by assets, last month launched a review of its Hong Kong operations to identify staff who could be transferred to Singapore. The number of moves has yet to be decided but is expected to cover a number of its business units and operations.

Coben is the latest banker to leave town. A series of JPMorgan Chase executives, including Ryan Holsheimer, head of cash and equity distribution for Asia-Pacific, and Francesco Lavatelli, former head of equity capital markets, have moved to Sydney and London .

Hong Kong‘s strict coronavirus rules, which involve 14 or 21 days of quarantine for international arrivals and have banned travel from nine countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have made more and more difficult for leaders to use the city as a business center. Global financial institutions warned the government last year that its pandemic policies would damage Hong Kong’s status as a financial hub.

The number of people leaving has increased as Hong Kong introduced a series of strict new measures to control its biggest coronavirus outbreak.

It this week unveiled a plan to test its entire population of 7.5 million people, tightened limits on socializing and brought forward summer school holidays to March. The latest crackdown has raised fears of a citywide lockdown and thousands more people, including children, being forced into government isolation centres.

“So many people are desperate to get their children out to avoid incarceration if they were to test positive for Covid,” said an executive at a Wall Street bank in Hong Kong. “It will take a few more days to see people flee, but I fully expect there will be an exodus.”

There was a net outflow of around 54,000 people from Hong Kong this month, compared with a net inflow of 29,000 in February last year, according to government data. Between July 2020 and July 2021, Hong Kong’s population fell by a record 1.2%.

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