Latest bank victory – Hong Kong High Court dismisses mis-selling claim

The Hong Kong Court of First Instance has recently handed down its judgment in Shine Grace Investment Ltd v. Citibank, N.A. and Another (HCCL 28/2008), a case relating to alleged mis-selling of equity accumulator contracts by Citibank.

In dismissing the plaintiff’s claim, Mr Justice Peter Ng applied the Hong Kong Court of Appeal’s (CA’s) reasoning in Chang Pui Yin & Ors v Bank of Singapore [2017] 4 HKLRD 458 that a bank-customer relationship alone does not without more give rise to a duty to advise on the part of the bank. Instead, whether the bank has assumed any such duty or legal responsibility will be assessed objectively, for instance through the contractual terms and any other relevant factual circumstances concerning the bank and its customers.

This is another welcome decision for banks, affirming the central importance of the contractual terms themselves. As a matter of contractual interpretation, the court rejected an argument that the SFC’s main code of conduct had been incorporated by the express terms of the relevant contractual documents. Apart from the contractual terms, the relative sophistication and character of the customer in question was also highly relevant to the court’s decision.

Going forward, financial institutions will no longer be able to rely on their contractual terms to exclude or limit liability in relation to investments entered into after 9 June 2017. Since that date, where a written client agreement is required under SFC regulations (ie, primarily where individual investors and inexperienced corporate investors are involved), a financial institution subject to the regulations is required to include a mandatory suitability clause in the agreement, and may not derogate from this requirement by way of any other contractual arrangement. In the longer term, this is likely to mean fewer mis-selling cases along the lines of Shine Grace. Continue reading