[Viewpoint]The right man is in Hong KongThe streets of Hong Kong are flooded with labels from the world’s top designers, such as Gucci, Chanel, Hermes, Montblanc and Rolls-Royce.
Yet a new brand-name item has begun to attract international attention. It is an item that Koreans should buy at all cost.
Its name is William A. Ryback. He is a 63-year-old American. Since 2003, he has been in charge of a full range of banking policy, development and supervision issues as deputy chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. After graduating from Seton Hall University in the United States, he worked for 35 years at U.S. financial supervisory departments and international financial organizations.
Just to name a few, he has been a senior associate director of the Division of Bank Supervision at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Association of Bank Supervisors of the Americas, and the Board of Governors representative on the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision.
He is one of the favorite officials of Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, who was called the “president of the U.S. economy.”
Mr. Ryback’s brilliant career has not necessarily made him a famous brand name in the financial community.
It’s his expertise and firm principles, as well as his exact understanding of problems, enthusiasm and leadership about the implementation of policies, that have made him the most talented man of the times in international financial circles.
The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region recruited him in 2003 when he was a director at the Federal Reserve Board because it needed his expertise and leadership to make its financial sector advanced.
His quality can be proven through one example.
When he came into office at the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, Hong Kong was troubled with minus loans, meaning there were more loans than mortgages.
The big problem was that as the total number of negative loans reached 120,000 cases, a fall in real estate prices meant a collapse in the financial sector.
Ryback immediately ordered the financial community to stop or set straight all kinds of negative loans.
The financial circles contended that there was no problem because the value of real estate was continuing to rise. But he did not step back. All kinds of lobbying by the financial community failed to work on him.
At present, the number of minus loans in the Hong Kong financial sector is less than 10,000.
The Hong Kong media at that time called his measure an excellent example of the principles-based elimination of possible future insolvencies.
Here is another example. At the beginning of his term in office, he read all the real estate-related advertisements carefully in the newspapers because real estate prices in Hong Kong were skyrocketing.
And then he picked out price collusions between real estate business- people and real estate owners who advertised their properties at prices higher than quoted, leading financial authorities to investigate them. Thanks to his persistent tracking month after month, advertisements that had encouraged a real estate bubble disappeared.
Even though Ryback has great passion, he recently reportedly said he would like a rest. In other words, he wants to relax his body and soul until he finds his last job worth doing as a financial man. Because of this, he is in high demand internationally.
The World Bank, which is in disarray because its head, Paul Wolfowitz, has been under pressure to resign due to a recent scandal involving a woman, hopes to invite Ryback to take the job.
The Hong Kong government is nervous about extending its contract with him even for another year, while the U.S. government reportedly asked him to return to his former job at the Federal Reserve Board, even only as an advisor.
But he has not budged. He does not view any of these offers as “worthwhile jobs.” If this is the case, then what job would he wish to do? In January of this year, he said to National Assemblyman Lee Seung-hee, an opposition Democrat who visited him on his way to study the financial policy of Hong Kong, “The large-scale international financial market, including the United States and Europe, is currently eyeing the Asian market, including South Korea and China. If an Asian financial crisis like that of 1997 breaks out again in the process of market inroads being made, it will be a fatal blow not only to Asia but also to the world’s economy. To prevent this crisis, Asia should create financial solidarity. This is what I believe and what I’d like to do. China falls under the international standards. Japan is too chauvinistic to do so. South Korea has the strong will to have systematic laws and become the financial hub in Asia. I hope South Korea will play the central role in creating financial solidarity.”
His remarks suggest that he may pour his remaining passion into Korea.
Of course, there is no knowing whether he will be successful when he is invited to Korea. But one thing that seems sure is that he is the best person to offer directions for the development and globalization of the Korean financial industry in its inceptive phase and to hand down his advanced systems and supervision techniques.
Now is the time for the South Korean government and financial community to reply to him.
*The writer is the Hong Kong correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Choi Hyeong-gyu