HSBC said on Friday that it would suspend service on weekend nights and during public holidays at more than a dozen automated teller machines (ATM) and express service centres in protest-hit parts of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
The city’s largest bank said it would close 19 selected locations from 8pm to 6am on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, days before public holidays and public holidays until further notice. Banking hours at its branches will remain unchanged.
The outlets are located at or near protest hotspots, such as Nathan Road in Kowloon, Des Voeux Road in Central, King’s Road in North Point and Castle Peak Road in Yuen Long.
“This is a precautionary measure to ensure the safety of customers who access the bank’s facilities,” the bank said.
A spokesman declined to comment when asked why the particular locations were chosen.
The announcement came a day after HSBC, which traces its 154-year history to colonial-era Hong Kong and Shanghai, was forced to close nearly a dozen of its branches and outlets as well as of its Hang Seng Bank subsidiary after they were damaged during a chaotic New Year’s Day protest in the city. Only one of the locations, a Hang Seng Bank self-service centre, had reopened as of Friday afternoon.
The unprecedented street protests, entering their seventh month, began in June over a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed the transfer of criminal suspects to mainland China for trial, but have evolved into a wider discussion about income inequality, affordable housing and Beijing’s influence over the city.
The bank has found itself in the cross hairs of Hong Kong’s radical protesters since Christmas Eve, after a police crackdown in December on a crowdfunding platform operated by Spark Alliance, which raised money to post bail and assist arrested demonstrators. Police have arrested four people on suspicion of money laundering and frozen about HK$70 million (US$9 million) in assets held in its corporate account.
HSBC, one of three currency-issuing banks in the city, has attempted to distance itself from the police crackdown, saying it closed Spark Alliance’s account in November in adherence with global compliance standards, “following fund transfer instructions from the customer as the account was not being used for its stated purpose”.
Two iconic lions – nicknamed Stephen and Stitt – outside HSBC’s main building in Central were spray-painted with red paint and several of the bank’s locations were vandalised on New Year’s Day.
On Friday, Stephen and Stitt disappeared from public view for only the third time in their history and were placed behind wooden hoardings so they can be restored. A sign said: “Stephen and Stitt need to undergo maintenance and restoration. They will return.”
On Wednesday, police ordered organisers to end an approved march early following vandalism on Hong Kong Island. At least 400 people were arrested as radical protesters blocked roads, threw petrol bombs and vandalised shops and bank branches.
Businesses and banks with mainland ties, including Bank of China (Hong Kong), Citic Bank and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, have previously been targeted by vandalism. A number of mainland lenders have since fortified their Hong Kong locations to diminish damage and close ahead of anticipated demonstrations.
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the city’s de facto central bank, on Thursday condemned “repeated acts of vandalism” against banking facilities in the city, saying “expression of opinions should be conducted in a peaceful manner”.
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