Noel Quinn’s appointment as the permanent CEO of HSBC provides a glimmer of good news for the banking sector in Hong Kong, which is currently reeling from the impact of the coronavirus on dealmaking and hiring.
Quinn may be British and based in London, but he has hands-on understanding of Asian markets, having been regional head of commercial banking for Asia Pacific from 2011 to 2015.
He is also the main driver behind HSBC’s big strategic overhaul in mid-February, which shifts capital from underperforming businesses in Europe and the US to growth markets within the firm’s already dominant Asian operations. Quinn said last month, when he was still interim CEO, that the bank would “continue to invest” in Asia, in particular the Greater Bay Area, the sprawling southern Chinese region that includes Hong Kong.
Part of Quinn’s investment in Asia will come in the form of new jobs. The region has largely escaped the approximately 35,000 global redundancies that HSBC announced last month (although Covid-19 may delay this restructuring).
What parts of HSBC’s Asian business will benefit from Quinn’s largess? The details aren’t yet clear as Quinn settles into his (permanent) new chair, but his group chief executive’s review in HSBC’s annual report, published in February, provides some clues. If you work in technology or private banking at HSBC, you may be feeling optimistic about the future, at least in the long term.
As we reported earlier this month, HSBC’s Wealth and Personal Banking division, a newly launched unit that includes the private bank, plans to recruit 500 more staff in Asia by 2022, including an undisclosed but significant number of Singapore and Hong Kong-based private bankers.
Quinn made specific reference to private banking in his review. Interestingly, he chose to highlight the “close collaboration” between private banking and HSBC’s “other global businesses”. This suggests, for example, that HSBC might want to hire relationship managers who are adept at working alongside investment bankers and suggesting IBD products to meet the needs of their entrepreneurial private clients.
While private banking is clearly important to Quinn, his review was dominated by a large number (even by bank CEO standards) of references to technology. HSBC invested $4.5bn in 2019, partly to “provide a better service through improved digital capabilities,” says Quinn. Encouragingly for technology jobs (but perhaps not back-office roles) at HSBC, one of Quinn’s “immediate aims” is to invest in “automation and digitisation”.
If you have blockchain skills and want to join a bank, Quinn appears to be a leading advocate of the technology. HSBC is at “the forefront of international efforts to commercialise blockchain technology to make trade finance easier, faster and safer for businesses”, he says, adding that the bank completed 11 letters of credit transactions using blockchain in 2019, including the first cross-border transaction in China.
Meanwhile, Quinn says the global banking and markets unit launched MyDeal last year, a platform that streamlines the deal execution process for primary capital markets clients. Global private banking launched a new online investment services portal, while commercial banking developed a system called Serai to simplify international trade transactions.
Don’t expect a hiring spree any time soon, however. In the face of the coronavirus, technology recruitment remains steady but is slower than had been anticipated this year, say recruiters. Quinn’s review flags the possibility of “revenue reductions from lower lending and transaction volumes, and further credit losses stemming from disruption to customer supply chains” – and he was writing before the virus became a global pandemic.
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