Banks vet HK clients for activism links - sources

Big banks are checking their Hong Kong clients for links to the city’s pro-democracy movement.

That’s according to Reuters sources.

They say screening has been stepped up by wealth managers at lenders including Credit Suisse, HSBC, Julius Baer and UBS - none of which wanted to comment.

The moves come after China introduced a new national security law with sweeping powers.

It prohibits subversion, broadly defined, and allows for the seizure of assets and penalties against companies.

Now wealth managers are reportedly combing through comments by clients and their associates in public or on social media.

One banker told Reuters the checks could go back as far as 2014.

Anyone designated ‘politically exposed’ by the lenders could find it impossible to access financial services.

It’s not clear which individuals have been scrutinised, but veteran democrat Albert Ho said he feared people like him would face difficulties.

In a statement, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority - the city’s de facto central bank - said there had been no change to practices.

China’s foreign ministry and other officials did not respond to requests for comment.

But the news will mean more awkward questions for western banks.

London-based HSBC and Standard Chartered have already faced criticism for supporting the new law.

Both said they believed it would help restore stability in Hong Kong.

Video Transcript

- Big banks are checking their Hong Kong clients for links to the city's pro-democracy movement. That is according to Reuters sources. They say screening has been stepped up by wealth managers at lenders, including Credit Suisse, HSBC, Julius Baer and UBS. None of which wanted to comment.

The moves come after China introduced a new national security law with sweeping powers. It prohibits subversion, broadly defined, and allows for the seizure of assets and penalties against companies.

Now, wealth managers are reportedly combing through comments by clients and their associates in public or on social media. One banker told Reuters the checks could go back as far as 2014. Anyone designated politically exposed by the lenders could find it impossible to access financial services. It's not clear which individuals have been scrutinized, but veteran democrat Albert Ho said he feared people like him would face difficulties.

In a statement, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the city's de facto central bank, said there had been no change to practices. China's foreign ministry and other officials did not respond to requests for comment.

But the news will mean more awkward questions for Western banks. London based HSBC and Standard Chartered have already faced criticism for supporting the new law. Both said they believed it would help restore stability in Hong Kong.