By Jennifer Hughes
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong's securities regulator is pursuing disciplinary action against eight firms for alleged misconduct in their roles sponsoring initial public offerings (IPOs) in the Asian financial hub, a senior official said on Wednesday.
The comments come days after UBS Group AG (UBSG.S) disclosed that the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) had blocked it from sponsoring IPOs for 18 months. The suspension, which the Swiss bank is appealing, is not effective until its appeal has been ruled upon.
The SFC - which is looking to lift the standards of so-called sponsors that lead IPOs in the city and are liable for any misinformation included in prospectuses - had in October said that it was probing "substandard work" by 15 firms during their IPO sponsorship.
On Wednesday, Thomas Atkinson, the SFC's enforcement head, said the work was "coming to a head".
"We were investigating 15 sponsor firms. We've issued eight proceedings ... and now we're looking at the sponsor principals and we're moving against those so there will be another round coming up," said Atkinson, who joined the SFC in May 2016.
He has previously said that the work in question from the 15 unnamed sponsors had led to billions of dollars in investment losses with shortcomings including basic issues such as not verifying customers or revenue data for listing candidates.
On Wednesday, Atkinson said the cases the SFC was pursuing reflected different issues.
"Some of it is negligence, some of it what I would consider extremely reckless conduct. There's a different range of sanctions that we'll seek on each of them," he said.
"Over the next six months you may see some are either resolved or point firmly towards a hearing but I think we've really set the tone in terms of sponsorship and I hope we're raising the bar," he said.
"What we're trying to show people is there is serious reputational risk if you don't do your job."
UBS and Standard Chartered (STAN.L) disclosed in 2016 that they were under investigation by the SFC for their roles as sponsors of unidentified IPOs in Hong Kong.
In an internal memo, reported by Reuters earlier this week, UBS estimated that its appeal would be heard in the fourth quarter of this year and a decision made early in 2019.
Hong Kong, the world's biggest equity capital-raising centre for four of the last 10 years, is looking to revive its appeal as a venue for IPOs and come off lows plumbed in 2017, the city's worst year for raising equity in a decade.
($1 = 7.8417 Hong Kong dollars)
(Reporting by Jennifer Hughes; Writing by Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Himani Sarkar)