Hong Kong financial firms brace for disruptions as protests intensify

By Elzio Barreto and Michelle Price

By Elzio Barreto and Michelle Price

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Some Hong Kong financial firms advised staff to work from home on Monday or go to secondary offices after thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators blocked parts of the city and clashed with police.

Hong Kong police fired volleys of tear gas on Sunday to try to disperse protesters who have launched what they term a "new era" of civil disobedience to pressure Beijing into granting full democracy for the former British colony.

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, whose offices overlook one of the main protest sites, told staff to "be cautious and avoid large gatherings" and advised managers to consider measures including working from home, at clients' offices or at an alternative location, according to an email from the firm seen by Reuters.

Companies including consultants EY and CITIC Securities International, which are across the street from Hong Kong government headquarters where student activists started the protests, also told their staff to work remotely.

"In order to ensure continuity of our business operations, our colleagues based at the Citic Tower will work at One Island East office/from home, as a contingency in the event of any traffic disruption," EY said in statement.

DBS Group Holdings, Singapore's biggest bank, will temporarily suspend services at its branch in the Admiralty neighborhood because of instability in the area, a bank spokesman said.

ROAD BLOCKS

As the clashes continued into the night, buildings in Hong Kong's financial district that are home to several investment banks, brokerages and law firms were free of protesters, but police were stationed near the towers that house the city's central bank and stock exchange.

Some roads were also blocked to prevent protesters from spilling into the financial district.

The ground floor entrances to the Cheung Kong Center, where Goldman Sachs and the Securities and Futures Commission are headquartered, were barricaded off, while the atrium below HSBC's headquarters, a popular Sunday hangout area, was shut.

Firms including Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley located across the harbor from the financial district and outside Hong Kong island were likely to face less problems, although some employees might struggle to get to work.

Financial firms are required to have business continuity plans (BCP) to deal with different types of emergencies, and several companies said they expected no disruption.

"We have a robust existing BCP and expect business as usual tomorrow," said a spokesman for UBS in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd (HKEx) said it had "contingency measures for different scenarios", but declined to give details. A person familiar with the HKEx plans expected limited problems as most trading is done electronically.

The Big Four accounting firms took out adverts in Hong Kong newspapers in June, calling on those seeking greater democracy to resolve disputes through dialogue, warning that foreign multinationals and investors might leave the territory because of the protests.

(Additional reporting by Lisa Jucca, Grace Li and Saikat Chatterjee in Hong Kong and Saeed Azhar in Singapore; Editing by Crispian Balmer)