Thursday, May 19, 2016

In digital push, HSBC to close half of India branches; China's future emerges in Shenzhen; How politicians conquered FB and Snapchat

1 In digital push, HSBC to close half of India branches (Straits Times) HSBC Holdings plans to shut almost half its branches in India and rely more on digital banking to expand its consumer business in the South Asian nation.

The London-based bank will cut 24 of its 50 branches as it seeks "the right mix of digital versus physical branch distribution," according to an e-mailed statement. The outlets to be closed account for less than 10 per cent of HSBC's retail customer base in India, the bank said.

Chief executive officer Stuart Gulliver is paring back HSBC's sprawling global network and shutting money-losing businesses to improve earnings hurt by compliance costs. Since 2011, the bank has slashed more than 87,000 positions, exited at least 80 businesses and reduced its footprint to about 71 countries and territories from 88.

2 China’s future emerges in Shenzhen (Khaleej Times) Forget Beijing and Shanghai. China's economic future is emerging in Shenzhen. Once a collection of fishing enclaves next door to Hong Kong, Shenzhen, which has become the epicentre of China's manufacturing-driven miracle, is staking its future growth on finance, technology and culture.

Divided from the former British colony of Hong Kong by a river, Shenzhen has been the preferred laboratory for experiments by China's communist leaders since reformist Deng Xiaoping designated the tranquil area as the country's first "special economic zone" in 1979.

Now a sprawling megacity of 11 million people, its fortunes were made churning out cheap clothes, electronics and toys for big foreign brands. Innovative new companies are drawn by Shenzhen's well-established manufacturing supply chains and transport links, proximity to Hong Kong's banking and financial expertise, and better traffic, milder weather and less air pollution than Beijing and Shanghai.

Established tech giants such as telecom gear makers Huawei and ZTE and internet company Tencent call Shenzhen home. So do rising stars like DJI Technology Co, the world's No. 1 supplier of civilian drones, inspiring local rivals such as Xenosky and Flypro. BGI, the world's biggest gene research center, and Kuangchi Science, the main investor in New Zealand jetpack maker Martin Aircraft, are also based here.

Emerging industries such as information technology, biotech, green energy and new materials now account for about 40 per cent of Shenzhen's economic output, Mayor Xu Qin said last month. 

Shenzhen's economy expanded at an 8.9 per cent pace last year, while nationwide growth slowed to a 25-year low of 6.9 per cent. Per capita GDP has risen to 158,000 yuan ($24,334), on a par with Portugal. Meanwhile, growth in Hong Kong slowed to 2.4 per cent.

Yet, like the rest of China, Shenzhen suffers from many side-effects from the past three decades of rapid industrialization, including sewage-choked rivers, grim and grimy factory zones on its fringes and sky-high property prices. The collapse of a mountain of construction waste last year killed nearly 60 people, exposing cost cutting and a lack of oversight.

3 How politicians conquered FB and Snapchat (Denise Hruby on BBC) World leaders are getting in on the celebrity act with carefully curated Facebook pages and Instagram feeds, all in a bid to show their human side and promote their political standing. And in the all-out race for popularity before and after the ballot box, followers, likes and shares are the ultimate prizes.

They’re in a competition for eyeballs against the likes of celebrities, singers, and cartoon characters. So while Shakira, Cristiano Ronaldo and The Simpsons still have more likes, among his peers, US President Barack Obama wins the popularity race by a mile. With more than 48 million likes on his main Facebook page, a study found the current US president is winning the political figure social media race.

Premiers of India, Turkey and Indonesia are also among the top five world leader accounts, partly because, like Obama, they come from populous countries, but also because they play the social media game oh-so-well.

“Effective social media translates into votes,” said Brian Donahue, who has served on several US election campaign teams, including George W Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign, and founded Craft, a PR firm. “It translates into support, interest, contributions, and overall engagement in your base. It’s crucial.”

When it comes to that — although he’s more a Twitter guy than anything else — one candidate really stands out. “Like him or hate him, Donald Trump epitomises that,” says Brian Donahue, who has served on several US election campaign teams. Through an aggressive online campaign for the US presidential nomination, Trump has dominated headlines, leaving him the actor, while others react, he said.

Newer social media channels are also on the rise, but measuring popularity isn’t always easy. Argentina’s new president Mauricio Macri stands nearly alone as a master of Snapchat. On Snapchat, for example, the number of followers and views isn’t shared publicly, making it hard to determine how popular an account really is. But it is the fastest-growing social network among teenagers who will be voting beginning in the next few years. That makes politicians quite keen to crack it.

Facebook has become a popular tool even among autocrats. Hun Sen, who has tightly ruled the small Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia for more than 30 years, ranks second on Luefken’s engagement ranking. On Facebook, the strongman presents himself strolling down a beach in a revealing bathrobe and playing with his grandchildren while he sports a tight white undershirt.

Just like leaders in free democracies, autocrats care deeply about their public image, said Aim Sinpeng, a lecturer of comparative politics at Sydney University who has looked into how politicians use social media. “(Hun Sen) needs more legitimacy from the young, wired, middle class so hence Facebook as a main form of engagement and re-designing his own image,” she said.

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