Trade we must, whatever the weather

Make a bloomer once and it becomes a lesson; make it twice and it becomes a choice, so the saying goes.

Mary Ma

Friday, July 23, 2021

Make a bloomer once and it becomes a lesson; make it twice and it becomes a choice, so the saying goes.

Last October, as tropical storm Nangka approached Hong Kong, I called out the HKEX for closing its doors in this brave new workfrom- home age and urged the exchange to bring its antiquated trading rules in line with the 21st century and in keeping with its stature as the world’s third-largest market, where more than HK$188 billion worth of shares change hands on average every day.

It was ironical that while the exchange stayed closed in the morning, a share placement and IPO proceeded apace because investors could subscribe to them remotely, while precious metals were also traded.

But old habits die hard and last month, on a stormy Monday, history repeated itself as the exchange pulled out the old rule book on severe weather arrangements and closed its doors, leading the new CEO to throw his hands up in exasperation.

Describing his disbelief at being told the bourse would remain shut because of a black rainstorm signal, Nicolas Aguzin said: “I was like, we are not opening? What’s happening?”

The fi rst non-Chinese to lead the bourse, Aguzin is tasked with shaking up the exchange’s work culture as he balances the demands of the mainland, Hong Kong and international investors.

And at a time when the US appears bent on demonizing Hong Kong, the bourse’s rule-makers must listen to and support the former JP Morgan banker as he settles into his new role and bids to strengthen the city’s allure to the international investor.

While the June closure made it three times in less than a year that the exchange had closed when tropical storms neared, Aguzin says people are already used to working from home.

“The fi rst question that I had was, should we leverage everything that we have learned to fi nd a way to see how we can continue operating?” he told a seminar at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center.

His question makes perfect sense. If there’s one thing that the pandemic has taught us about work, it is that we don’t necessarily need to be pulling long hours in an offi ce as most jobs – especially those involving technology – can be performed to perfection, even from the edge of space.

Yes, T8 has long been taken as the signal to pack your bags and head home or not step out to work. And some may argue that despite the remote revolution there is no offi cial line on whether those working from home should continue to do so when there’s a bad weather alert.

But the times, they are a-changin’. Aguzin made it clear that he did not want staff to risk their lives during a typhoon or a black storm, but said there must be a way where the exchange “can make sure that when people trade, the market is open,” come rain or shine.

I couldn’t agree more. Stock traders yelling over each other on the fl oor while scribbling on their pads are a vanishing species and markets around the world have long moved from paper to pixel, with deals worth billions done in the blink of an eye by traders and investors through remote terminals and smartphones.

Few bourses shutter for bad weather in this day and age. The exchange must keep pace with its peers by staying open all hours when it trades, rather than letting an inclement weather signal rain on its parade.