THE BLOG

Hong Kong 101--An American's Guide to The Asian Financial Forum

Ask most Americans about Hong Kong or China, and they immediately think of wonton soup and egg rolls. Americans are never taught about the region's geography and would be hard pressed to label a map of Asian countries or to describe their history. That's because American students are taught American history, some European history, and that's about it. And so, Asia remains a foreign, faraway place never visited by most Americans. In fact, more than one-third of Americans say they don't even hold passports, according to the Daily Mail, and more than 50% have never traveled out of the US. Their idea of an "exotic" vacation is a Caribbean cruise, which visits some pretty undifferentiated ports of call; just buying a new t-shirt signals having been to a new island stop.

Due to my previous travel through North America, Europe, and Asia, I considered myself fairly well-traveled especially when compared with my peers. Nevertheless, I never dreamed of literally circling the globe by visiting Hong Kong, mainland China, Thailand, and Tokyo on one trip - but also that I would have completed it in only 12 days.

About two years ago, I visited Hong Kong for the very first time and could not believe my eyes. Traveling from the dated, fraying JFK airport in NYC to the shining, efficient airport in Hong Kong, my world view was immediately changed: It was the U.S. that was a third-world country, and Asia was vivid. I expanded my personal horizons and business vistas by seeking offshore clients for my high-net-worth (HNW) marketing firm. I hope that you will follow my lead, too.

I have kept my eye on Hong Kong as a country with a fast-growing contingent of HNW individuals. Consider this: The number of HNW individuals rose by more than 26% from 2011 to 2012, totaling approximately 233,220, according to Research and Markets' recently released Hong Kong 2013 Wealth Book. And Hong Kong is so "wired" that it has the highest rate of mobile internet use in the region, as 96% of smartphone users go online every day, according to a study reported in the South China Morning Post. I noticed that even the public buses have wifi.

Thanks to its British ancestry, Hong Kong has two languages and is the ideal entry point for businesses seeking to expand manufacturing opportunities, sources of new financial services clients, and more. In fact, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council will even assist you with amazing programs like their business match-making, which will pair you with like-minded firms to help you "enter" Asia with ease via Hong Kong.

When the council invited me to attend its recently held, annual Asian Financial Forum, I jumped at the chance. As Asia's largest financial services conference, it is the equivalent of the Academy Awards in Asian financial services, attracting a who's who of luminaries, including the private sector's leading global financial services firms, influential government policy makers, and other diverse attendees. In its seventh year, the recent forum drew more than 2,000 attendees, including more than 300 journalists, from more than 39 countries! I was proud to be one of the few Americans.

As my background materials and agendas came streaming over from the council, I was torn when deciding which sessions to attend because they all sounded so fascinating. Although there was a competing Hong Kong Fashion Show at the convention center, I didn't miss one minute of the Asian Financial Form's speakers and sessions, which taught me Hong Kong 201 and Asia 201 for American dummies. Even the internal "competition" within China's cities for dominance was compelling to watch. Though the conference was subtitled "Hong Kong--Powering Asia's Growth," it was evident that there are other cities within China seeking dominance and their place within the world's leading financial services centers.

However, today Hong Kong remains Asia's "world city," as the ninth-largest trading economy globally. Furthermore, it continues to remain the gateway to China's financial system due to its British underpinnings. More than 3,800 overseas and mainland Chinese firms have a regional base located in Hong Kong. According to the Heritage Foundation, it has the world's freest economy, the second largest stock market in Asia, and is the second-leading private equity center in Asia for HNW individuals. Hong Kong also is ideally positioned in relation to the Pearl River Delta (PRD) on mainland China's southern border. Giving Hong Kong some serious competition, the PRD is home to some of the mainland's wealthiest consumers and highest spenders on par with cities like Shanghai and Bejing, which are both financial services powerhouses in their own right.

While there is so much to say about the opportunities for Americans to learn and grow their businesses in Hong Kong, mainland China and beyond, Americans should begin now by googling a map to learn more about the region and geography. Trade in your annual Caribbean cruise tickets and visit Hong Kong. Contact the Hong Kong Trade and Development Council to learn and receive assistance from the experts about how your business can enter Asia - whether your field is financial services, where there is a lack of products and talent, or manufacturing, where there is a well-qualified and reliable workforce.

I urge Americans to think beyond the mundane Dow Jones average and "The Wolf Of Wall Street" happenings and diversify your personal and business perspective to places beyond California. At this year's Asian Financial Forum, more than 500 firms and individuals participated in its highly effective Deal Flow Matchmaking, which is facilitated during the conference. Instead of an American "networking/cocktail" session, the Asians come ready to collaborate, work together, and help others to discover the opportunities.

Opportunities abound for women in particular. I was honored to have a chance to speak with Ms. Laura Cha, a distinguished Chinese businesswoman and policymaker who heads the Chinese Financial Services' Development Council. Her extensive regulatory and policy-making experience in financial services and the securities sectors highlights the opportunities for women in financial services overseas. They are much more commonplace in Asia than on Wall Street and in the U.S. in general.

If I sound excited, it's because I am; the Chinese outbound investment appetite is huge with mainland ultra-HNW/HNW investors teaming with money for offshore products and funds to help diversify their portfolios and gain access to global deal-making. Take it from me: There is so much happening in Hong Kong, mainland China and beyond. Ditch that slow boat to China and book a trip to see for yourself. There is a whole new world on the other side of the globe to discover beyond sweet and sour chicken and wonton soup.