I used to work for HSBC. I was a managing director in the global banking and markets division for over eight years and I know it well. I also know that it's a bank that has been seriously under-served by management for a long, long time.
People at HSBC's investment bank are some of the hardest working in the market. They've had to be: only through their hard work were they able to overcome years of under-investment from senior management. There are some talented people in the ranks, but HSBC's staff are mostly differentiated for their extreme dedication.
What, then, has gone wrong? I blame a historic failure of leadership. Samir Assaf, the CEO of the global banking and markets division, who is leaving the bank, is partly responsible. During my time at HSBC, there was a lack of vision or coherent strategic theme and seemingly little accountability for poor-performance. Stuart Gulliver, the then-CEO was inspiring, but struggled to get the levels below him to execute his changes.
I know that it's different elsewhere. Before I reported to Samir, I worked at Deutsche Bank and reported to Anshu Jain. The contrast could not have been more stark. When Anshu said something on a call, you needed to be doing it before the call was over. At HSBC, this wasn't the case. People there worked hard, but it was at doing what they were used to.
Because of this, it wasn't always easy to join HSBC as an outsider with an experience of working somewhere else. Ex-Goldman Sachs banker Matthew Westerman wasn't the first to find this out. In my second appraisal at the bank, my boss said: "I know you are aggressive in trying to get things done, but it’s more important to get along than to get results.” A nice sentiment, but not in banking where results are paramount.
Quinn seems determined to shake things up, and high-performers at HSBC should embrace this. Middle-management has been entrenched for far too long and change can't hurt. - If you're good, and plenty of people at HSBC are, Quinn should be welcomed. You just need to be given the opportunity to thrive under a strong leader.
Dario Sigona is the pseudonym of an ex-MD at HSBC in London
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