The down side of being a Hong Kong high-flyer

Updated: 2015-05-18 07:36

By Marvin Wallace(HK Edition)

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Think of a paradigm of wild living and perhaps a rock star will come to mind, Jim Morrison maybe or Jimi Hendrix. It might come as a surprise then, that if one were to compare the "wild life" of one of those notorious rock stars with a Hong Kong high-flyer, there might be little or no difference between them. The banking profession in Hong Kong is replete with individuals of the hedonistic ilk, that being philosophical parlance for those who revel in sex, drugs and rock and roll. This life style, it may be argued, is due to many factors, including professional expectations and stress.

A recent case has brought this alternative "lifestyle" into focus. Highlighting the sordid life of the banker turned murderer, Rurick Jutting, Britain's Mail Online reported, "Jutting would come into the pubs on Saturday and Sunday mornings in a very bad state... his zombie-like appearance was a result of drug abuse... Cocaine is the drug of choice for expatriate bankers in Hong Kong and there is a bar in Wan Chai which is known to be a place where it can be purchased easily". This is just one of a number of cases where the high life has gotten out of hand.

When crossing the border to the mainland, and substituting cocaine for alcohol, remarkably similar scenarios can be found. The first is the drug of the Hong Kong high-flyers, the second that of corrupt officials. But why is it, one might ask, that both Hong Kong people and Westerners, when commentating on these hedonists, too often reserve special ire for the corrupt officials, while harboring a grudging admiration for the high flying finance professional?

Here lies the difference one may opine. The corrupt officials have used their "ill-gained" wealth and privilege to leverage personal gratification. Their wealth has been coerced from the unsuspecting masses through whatever means necessary, more often than not involving duplicity. The Hong Kong high-flyers on the other hand, though living just as excessively, have at least earned their lifestyle, using wealth gained through their own "genius" and "endeavor", they should, therefore, be free to do whatever they please with their cash.

That excuse, for the profligate lifestyles of these bankers is not acceptable to most of us, however. One may accept that expectations and stress are contributory factors in determining lifestyle, but that is a world away from justifying such behavior. A further example of how indulgent these professionals have become, is the case of Nick Leeson, who brought down one of the world's oldest banks singlehandedly, when he was a junior derivatives trader. Leeson gambled and lost HK$9.93 billion, causing the collapse of Barings Bank. Although based in Singapore, Leeson's favored playground was, of course, Hong Kong.

Of profligate excess, English footballer Rodney Marsh tells a famous tongue in cheek story of his friend George Best, one of Britain's best ever footballers. A room service attendant who happened to be a football fan walked into a hotel room and recognized George Best with a pile of cash on the bed, bottles of Champagne strewn around the room, and the Miss World of the day, in a state of undress, as company. The attendees' response, "Where did it all go wrong, George?" The irony should not be lost that for the two footballers they had achieved their dreams but did not have the self discipline to refrain from over-indulging on their achievements. The same is true for many high-flyers in various industries and professions.

The often-repeated axiom among Hong Kong high-flyers is "work hard play hard". That is perhaps just putting a brave face on things, for the banker is, in reality, forced to do whatever it takes to get in the game and stay there; their hedonistic lifestyles are but opiates to dull the daily emotional pain and stress they must endure. After all the financial rewards for banking professionals in Hong Kong are among the highest in the world, but so too is the price to be paid. Let us pay attention to ancient wisdom; "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil."

The author is a freelance writer with qualifications in Art, Theology, Philosophy of Religion and Linguistics. He is the founder of Socrates Education which focuses on creative and analytical writing and thinking.

(HK Edition 05/18/2015 page9)