If you’re a senior banker at a Western bank in Hong Kong and you’re heading to a client meeting away from Central, you’ll probably grab a taxi or an Uber to get there. If you work for an Asian bank in the city, however, you’ll probably take a more glamorous form of transport: a luxury car from your firm’s own fleet.
Moreover, you’ll be taken to your meeting not by a bedraggled taxi driver, but by a well-groomed colleague: a chauffeur who is also an employee of your bank.
Asian banks in Hong Kong frequently have vacancies for drivers, and their job requirements are more stringent than you might think. China Construction Bank (CCB) currently has an opening, and it requires candidates to match the trilingual language skills of the bankers they’ll be ferrying around. Fluency in Cantonese and competency in Mandarin and English is required, according to the bank’s careers site.
CCB’s chauffeurs also need to be punctual and polite, and have a “strong sense of responsibility”, presumably so they can exude a calming influence as they drive stressed bankers to deal-making meetings.
CCB is not alone in employing chauffeurs in Hong Kong – we also spotted an earlier vacancy at Hang Seng Bank, for example. “Drivers aren’t common among American and European banks,” says a former senior Citi MD. “It’s a very Asian-bank perk. Indonesian banks also do it.”
Asian banks use chauffeurs to impress their wealthy private clients. Relationship managers might arrive at meetings in the company Mercedes, and high-end cars are also used to drive Chinese clients across the border, or pick them up from Hong Kong airport.
“The local banks in Hong Kong love to do this for super-rich clients. This type of culture used to exist in Switzerland in the ‘80s, but in Asia the culture is still to impress clients with added perks,” says former Merrill Lynch private banker Rahul Sen, now a global leader in private wealth management at search firm Boyden. “Senior bankers in Hong Kong sometimes use their banks’ chauffeurs to drive them over to Shenzhen because it’s more convenient and appears more prestigious to clients when they arrive,” he adds.
There’s another reason why banks hire chauffeurs: they want to keep clients out of harm's way. “Safety awareness” concerning the “security terrorist threat” was part of the job description of an earlier Hang Seng driver vacancy, as was knowledge of “defensive techniques” to protect of “VIP guests”.
If you want to regularly use a company chauffeur at a global bank, you may need to reach the C-suite. Former HSBC chief executive Stuart Gulliver received contractual benefits of £201,078 (HK$1.9m) in 2018 for the use of a company-provided car and Hong Kong accommodation, according to HSBC’s annual report.
Image credit: greenp, Getty
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