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Hong Kong's 'moneymaking genes' help it trump charmless Frankfurt, LA and Singapore, says tycoon Ronnie Chan

While some international cities that are well-equipped with hotels and airports are "artificial" and "super boring", Hong Kong is also "full of charm", which makes it a favourable destination for wooing talent and wealth from across the world, said Ronnie Chan Chi-chung, chairman of Hang Lung Properties.

Hong Kong's unique advantages, such as its strategic location, its role in the Greater Bay Area (GBA), its government and its "moneymaking genes" make it a natural choice for families and family offices looking to establish a presence in the Asia-Pacific region, Chan said in an interview with the Post.

"There are a lot of cities that are well equipped, with high-end hotels and mega airports, but such beauty is very artificial," he said. These cities can attract people to come once or twice, but their society is "super boring".

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"They lack charm."

'Hong Kong has always been a business-led community, meaning it's always about making money,' Chan says. Photo: Jonathan Wong alt='Hong Kong has always been a business-led community, meaning it's always about making money,' Chan says. Photo: Jonathan Wong>

Chan's remarks come amid efforts by Hong Kong to reaffirm its status as an international finance centre and advertise itself as the family office hub in Asia, after the city's government lifted all mandatory mask requirements and social distancing measures this year. Hong Kong's status as a wealth and financial centre has been under pressure during the Covid-19 pandemic, with wealthy Chinese investors reportedly putting their money in Singapore.

Hong Kong ranked fourth after New York, London and Singapore in the latest Global Financial Centres Index compiled by China Development Institute in Shenzhen and the London think tank Z/Yen Partners. "But we can catch up. Money that flocked there [Singapore] can return [to Hong Kong]," Chan said.

Chan did not identify which cities are "artificial", but said cities such as Frankfurt, Los Angeles and Singapore have "no charm".

"Hong Kong, London, New York and Paris have charm," Chan added.

He said Hong Kong has six "Gs", its unique advantages. These are: genetics, geography, a culture of giving, the GBA, its government and grey matter.

"Hong Kong has always been a business-led community, meaning it's always about making money," he said, adding that moneymaking was "in the genes" of the city.

Its geographical location, referring to its proximity to mainland China, and its role in the GBA, also make the city more attractive, Chan said. The GBA is considered one of the world's fastest-growing economic regions with a combined population of more than 86 million people and an economy estimated at US$1.67 trillion in 2020, according to official data.

Hongkongers are at all levels generous when it comes to giving, he said, and the city's government provides a favourable environment for business.

In terms of grey matter, Chan said the city has embraced many intelligence research institutes, such as Centre for Asian Philanthropy and Society, an independent research and advisory organisation Chan co-founded in 2013. In February, the centre issued a study that recommends Hong Kong enhance its role as a centre for family offices by offering more tax incentives for philanthropy and exploring cross-border flows of capital for charitable purposes.

Chan, along with other Hong Kong tycoons, such as Pacific Century Group chairman Richard Li Tzar-kai, Sun Hung Kai Properties' executive director Adam Kwok Kai-fai, and chiefs of the world's leading family offices and organisations, exchanged views at the high-level "Wealth for Good" forum organised by the Hong Kong government on March 24.

The event at the Hong Kong Palace Museum in the West Kowloon Cultural District was attended by around 400 representatives from more than 100 family offices globally. The attendees discussed various initiatives for family offices, divided into philanthropy, the arts, technology and environment, social and governance (ESG) issues.

Chan said the forum was "very pleasantly surprising".

"A lot of people that have not seen each other for many years showed up," he said, recalling his reunions during the forum.

Speaking of an overseas tycoon's family, he said: "Thirty years ago, I used to see his uncle, now the nephew is running the show.

"So, a new generation is still very keen to work in Hong Kong."

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2023 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2023. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.