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Friday, May 14, 2021

Mixed reactions as HKEX picks first foreign chief

Mixed reactions as HKEX picks first foreign chief

Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing has named Alejandro Nicolas Aguzin, who leads JPMorgan's international private bank, as its new chief executive - the first foreign head of the local stock exchange.
After a protracted search, Aguzin was appointed to a three-year term, starting on May 24, subject to the Securities and Futures Commission's approval.

Aguzin, 52, will replace Charles Li Xiaojia, also a former JPMorgan banker, who announced his resignation in May 2020 and left at the end of last year after a decade at the helm.

"Aguzin's extensive experience in Hong Kong, the mainland, Asia and globally and his deep knowledge of global capital markets, will help HKEX continue to build its competitiveness," the company said.

HKEX will "support the ongoing growth and development of Hong Kong's unique financial markets."

The board had been split between picking a candidate who can operate with confidence in China or one with a strong international background, sources said.

And the choice was met with some skepticism in Hong Kong.

"Charles Li was able to push through landmark initiatives largely because he knows the mainland and how to navigate among Chinese officials," said Christopher Cheung Wah-fung, a lawmaker representing the financial services sector. "It seems on the surface that Aguzin doesn't have that background."

While not from Hong Kong or the mainland, the Argentine native is well-connected in the region after serving as JPMorgan's chairman and CEO of Asia Pacific from 2012 to 2020. Aguzin has been based in Hong Kong for the last nine years.

Before that he led the lender in Latin America and held various senior investment banking roles after joining as a financial analyst in 1990.

Aguzin will need to build on Li's success over the past years in linking the exchange closer to China, while also facing increased competition from mainland bourses in Shanghai and Shenzhen.

He will be working under chairman Laura Cha Shih May-lung, who is well-connected in China and sees the bourse's role as serving Beijing's interests and avoiding competition with the mainland. Cha moved to tighten control over the bourse late in Li's tenure, asserting more control over hiring and placing checks and balances on strategic decisions, a source said.

"His skills and expertise will help us drive forward our strategy, utilizing our deep China experience, but also reinforcing our international reach and relevance," Cha said.

Li said" "Nicolas is one of my good friends. He is also a good friend of China and Hong Kong. I believe he will become an excellent CEO of HKEX."

HKEX's shares slid 0.77 percent to HK$514.50 yesterday, paring this year's gain to 21 percent.

The management change might not affect the short-term share price, which is more driven by market turnover and new listings at the bourse, said Kenny Wen Kit, wealth management strategist at Everbright Sun Hung Kai.
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