Angered by recent events, some Bank of China customers in Hong Kong are switching to HSBC. Photo: iStock

HSBC announced on Wednesday that it will eliminate minimum balance requirements and fees for personal accounts in Hong Kong from August 1, which will benefit about three million customers.

Headquartered in London, HSBC said it will be the first bank in Hong Kong to provide free basic banking services to customers who hold its passbook accounts, statement accounts, personal and advance integrated accounts, and super ease accounts.

The decision came after media reported that some Hong Kong citizens had withdrawn their money from Bank of China accounts as a way to protest against the Hong Kong and Beijing governments’ proposed extradition bill amendment.

On June 9, more than one million people took to the streets of Hong Kong to oppose the extradition law. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor decided to urge the Legislative Council to begin discussion of the bill on June 12. Tens of thousands of protestors occupied key roads in Admiralty on June 12, but they were dispersed by armed police with tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bag rounds. On June 15, Lam announced the suspension, but not retraction, of the bill.

On June 14, Chan Kam-mei, a Hong Kong Christian, said she had withdrawn all her money from a Chinese bank and was applying to open an offshore account with HSBC. She said her move was aimed at protesting against Beijing after Hong Kong police fired tear gas at protesters. She said she saw six elderly women withdrawing money from the Chinese bank while she was waiting. Citing a HSBC staff, she said a lot of elderly people have recently applied to open offshore accounts and buy US dollars.

A Hong Kong man named Ah Wai also shared his recent experience of closing his account at Bank of China (Hong Kong) in his blog article on June 15. He said it took just 15 minutes to close it.

On Tuesday, the overnight rate offered by Bank of China (Hong Kong) was 1.7%, compared with 1.3% by HSBC and 1.38% by Standard Chartered, Apple Daily reported. Hong Kong banks’ average rate was 1.48%. The report said the Bank of China (Hong Kong) had to offer a premium due to recent cash withdrawals by customers.

However, Kevin Tsui, an associate professor of Economics at Clemson University, was quoted by Fortune Insight as saying that there had not been any large-scale cash withdrawals in Hong Kong-based Chinese banks. Tsui said it is unlikely there will be a “run” on the Bank of China (Hong Kong), which is backed by the Chinese government.

Currently, HSBC customers have to pay a monthly fee of HK$60 (US$7.70) if they have less than HK$5,000 in their personal integrated accounts on average within three months. They will be charged a monthly fee of HK$120 if they have less than HK$200,000 in their advance integrated accounts. On Wednesday, HSBC said it will scrap these minimum balance requirements from August 1. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority said it welcomed the move.

Read: Hong Kong grants four more virtual banking licenses

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