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HSBC intensifies pivot to Asia with job moves and US exit

HSBC is accelerating its “pivot to Asia”, moving top executives from London to Hong Kong, scrapping its US retail banking operation and planning further expansion in Singapore.

The moves, some of which are expected to be raised during a strategic update this week, come as tensions rise between the west and China that have left the Hong Kong-founded, UK-headquartered bank in a precarious position.

Executives relocating to Hong Kong are likely to include Greg Guyett, co-head of global banking and markets, Nuno Matos, chief executive of wealth and personal banking, and Barry O’Byrne, chief executive of global commercial banking, according to people familiar with the matter.

Relocating the trio would mean business divisions that account for almost all of HSBC’s global revenue will be run out of Hong Kong. The personnel moves, first reported by Bloomberg, are dependent on regulatory approval, said a person close to the bank. HSBC declined to comment.

“The objective is to have more people in Asia to address the commercial opportunity there,” said one senior figure at the bank. He added that HSBC was relocating them so it could grow faster and have a critical mass of global leaders in the region.

HSBC has been severely criticised by British MPs and US politicians over its endorsement of a controversial national security law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong and for closing the accounts of pro-democracy activists.

Greg Guyett © HSBC
Barry O’Byrne © HSBC

Meanwhile, HSBC has been criticised by Chinese state media after it provided information to US prosecutors that led to the arrest of a top executive at Chinese telecoms group Huawei. However, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, has praised the bank in recent weeks, saying she would “love” for HSBC to expand in the city. 

“The job for [HSBC chairman] Mark Tucker is 80 per cent politics and 20 per cent business at the moment,” said one HSBC executive. “The Chinese have the potential to destroy them.”

Alongside its annual results on Tuesday, the bank is also preparing to announce a withdrawal from consumer banking in the US after concluding it cannot turn round the struggling unit, some of the people said.

Exiting the 150-branch US retail network would mark the end of the lender’s 40-year attempt to run a full-service bank in America. The division has been lossmaking for the past three years.

In addition to China, HSBC also wants to expand in other fast-growing markets including Singapore and India, the senior figure at the bank said. After years of being courted by local authorities, HSBC is laying the groundwork for an acquisition in Singapore in the future, although this will not be part of Tuesday’s update.

Investor pressure for more radical changes has been increasing as the bank’s shares have underperformed peers. HSBC’s shares have fallen 43 per cent since Tucker took…

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