HONG KONG - FOR most financial market professionals in this city and other hubs across Asia, the days of extravagant expatriate life have ended. For now at least.
The standard HK$200,000 per month (S$37,200) housing allowance for top bankers is gone or going in most cases.
Paid-for chauffeurs to tote executives and their families around the steep hills of Hong Kong are scarcer, as are free memberships to exclusive country, golf or dinner clubs that may otherwise cost more than HK$2.1 million to join.
Free private school education for the kids, roughly $10,000 (S$14,400) per child at international schools, is getting scaled back too.
And in another sign of lean times, corporate ships for pleasure cruises around Hong Kong's myriad beaches and outlying islands are getting auctioned off, with UBS AG among the financial institutions to recently set plans to part with its junk boat reserved for employees and clients.
Many banking executives from Wall Street and Europe still live a life of luxury in Asia. But for many others, the 'expat' life of perks is a fading phenomenon.
Starting last December, Morgan Stanley, like other Wall Street banks, began rolling housing benefits into salaries. New hires, in most cases, will not be granted housing allowances, sources inside the bank say.
Hong Kong's elite band of property agents, tasked with renting out the territory's most desired addresses including luxury condominiums and grand colonial mansions overlooking the city's iconic harbour, have been rubbing their wounds of late.
'My record was a HK$320,000 (rent per month) mansion that was around 4,000 square feet with a full sea view,' said a property specialist surnamed Lai who's helped senior foreign executives find luxury homes for the past 13 years.
Residential rental prices dropped, by some estimates, more than 30 per cent earlier this year. Prices have stabilised, and may soon rise, but are still nowhere near the levels reached in early 2008.
HSBC sold its junk boats several years ago but still owns bungalows spread throughout the region for off-sites and weekend getaways for employees lucky enough to be on top of the waiting list. -- REUTERS
NdR: I wish these expats could spend the rest of their days sitting on a ceramic bowl...