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Financial planning an age-old problem

London, 7 July 2021: Hong Kong has the highest life expectancy in the world. I discovered this interesting fact in recent days when reading a media report about the retirement plans of its citizens. I should stress that I simply stumbled upon this article and have zero interest in packing in work, just the opposite in fact. Fifteen months of pandemic-enforced grounding – before my current visit to the UK – has allowed me to cut out regular long-distance flying and adopt a far healthier lifestyle. With the help of a personal trainer, a dietician and habitual hikes, I’ve shed 15 kilograms and never felt better. My zest for life and thirst for work have, if anything, increased.

Hong Kong’s life expectancy has seen a steady rise over the past half-century. The result is that, since 2010, both women and men in the city have led the world in life expectancy. The latest World Bank data states the life expectancy for males and females in Hong Kong is 82 years and 88 years, respectively. It also means we have one of the fastest-ageing societies in the world. Between 2018 and 2038, the number of people aged 65 or above will almost double from 1.27 million to 2.44 million, according to government predictions.

But in a city as expensive as ours, this means problems. The article I was scanning concerned a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Retirement Schemes Association, an organisation championing pension plans in the city. It stated that nine out of 10 middle-income citizens approaching retirement age have no intention of stopping working anytime soon because they fear their pension savings are insufficient. Further, many believe the Covid-19 pandemic will probably increase health care costs in the future, dealing another blow to their savings plans.

Covid-19 is affecting the financial planning of Hong Kong residents of all ages. A study by Standard Chartered discovered that two-thirds of people are finding managing their money more difficult these days. A third of those interviewed have lowered their daily spending budget and a similar number have reviewed their savings or investments in the hope of finding better deals.

They are wise to do so, because Hong Kong’s coronavirus fight would appear to stretch long into the future. The city is caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, sticking to its “zero-Covid” strategy in the hope of fully reopening the border with mainland China; on the other, knowing this means strict quarantine controls that exacerbate isolation from the rest of the world. Many Western nations are opening up on the back of high vaccination rates and a readiness to accept a certain level of infections – and fatalities – in order to kick-start their economies.

Health authorities confirmed just one imported Covid-19 infection today, taking the cumulative total of confirmed cases to 11,945, with just 212 related fatalities, remarkable figures compared with the toll the coronavirus has exacted on most other jurisdictions. Yet the city’s vaccination rate remains disappointingly low. The mass vaccination scheme is superbly efficient and free of charge, yet still only 1,645,300 people – some 22% of the population – have received two jabs and can be considered fully inoculated.

The city’s business community is becoming increasingly concerned and vocal about this apparent stagnation. Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce CEO George Leung recently noted the government’s success in keeping the virus at bay and acknowledged the low vaccination rate made it unsafe to return to restriction-free travel, but he could not hide his frustration. “Hong Kong’s success and prosperity have been built on our role as an international commercial hub. This means people need to be able to travel in and out of the city with ease – whether this involves a long-haul flight or cross-border day trip. And it is not just senior executives who need to travel as part of their jobs.”

While the business sector suffers, of course the pandemic hits the poorest hardest. A survey by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service published this past weekend found that one-third of people polled spend at least half their salary on rent for the city’s notorious subdivided flats. The NGO also found that 70% of low-income families with children lived below the poverty line and 34% had moved in the past three years to try to find a subdivided flat with better living conditions. As we have noted several times in this blog, Hong Kong has serious issues regarding housing, education, healthcare and social welfare.

In closing, I should admit that all this talk of financial hardship leaves me in need of a fillip and I’m desperately hoping England’s footballers will provide one this evening. I’m heading off to Wembley to watch their Euro 2020 clash against Denmark, with the winners earning the right to play Italy in Sunday’s final. Perhaps I should re-read that pensions report. Watching England in the semi-final of a major tournament? Nothing can be guaranteed to make you age faster.

Stay safe and well, everybody!

Colin Cohen
Senior Partner
Boase Cohen & Collins

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