HSBC To Slash Costs, Restructure; Private Banking Folded Into New Unit

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor, 18 February 2020


The bank is cutting up to about 35,000 jobs across affected businesses over the next two years. Global private banking will enter a new wealth and personal banking arm as part of restructuring, cutting from four divisions to three. The lender is slashing exposures at its investment banking businesses in Europe and the US.

HSBC today announced it is slashing costs and changing its organisational structure to restore margins across the board, saying that while results for 2019 had been “resilient” that several parts weren’t performing acceptably. Changes mean global private banking will now be part of a wealth and personal banking arm.

The UK/Hong Kong-listed bank may over the next couple of years bring the total number of jobs to near to 200,000; they are currently 235,000. The restructuring changes will hit parts of HSBC’s European and US investment banking operations although it is unclear at the time of going to press if private banking will be affected. When this news service asked HSBC, a spokersperson said: "We’re not providing a breakdown on the reduction plan."

The bank’s interim chief executive, Noel Quinn, stays in the post as the search for a permanent CEO continues, it said today.

Such changes, such as big cuts to capital-intensive businesses, a simpler structure and shedding some operations, fit with a trend in past years of banks trying to pivot away towards areas that don’t soak up so much capital. HSBC’s changes, however, are some of the largest by any major bank in recent years. A heavy restructuring announcement had been trailed in the press.

HSBC said it logged a reported profit attributable to ordinary shareholders of $6.0 billion in 2019, sliding by more than half (53 per cent) from a year ago, affected by a goodwill impairment of $7.3 billion. Reported profit before tax fell 33 per cent year-on-year to $13.3 billion. Reported revenue rose by 4 per cent and reported operating costs rose by 22 per cent because of a goodwill impairment of $7.3 billion.
The goodwill impairment was mainly related to its global banking and markets business and the commercial banking operations in Europe. These setbacks reflected lower long-term economic growth rate assumptions, and additionally for GB&M, the planned reshaping of the business, the bank said.

“There is no guarantee that these measures will make HSBC, which has trailed its rivals for some time, the competitive bank it is craving to become in the short-term at least, particularly with the current weakness in Asia, its key market,” Adam Vetttese, an analyst at multi-asset investment platform eToro, said in a note.

In Hong Kong trading, shares in HSBC fell by 2.78 per cent. As of around 12:30 GMT on London's Stock Exchange, shares were down about 6.7 per cent on the day.

Private banking
HSBC said its global private banking arm drew in $23 billion of net new money in 2019 and increased adjusted revenue by 5 per cent. For 2019, private banking’s adjusted pre-tax profit was $402 million, up from $339 million in 2018. The cost/income ratio was 77.1 per cent, down from 81.1 per cent.   

“The [overall HSBC] group’s 2019 performance was resilient, however parts of our business are not delivering acceptable returns. We are therefore outlining a revised plan to increase returns for investors, create the capacity for future investment, and build a platform for sustainable growth. We have already begun to implement this plan, which my management team and I are committed to executing at pace,” Quinn said.

The lender said it is targeting a cut of more than $100 billion in risk-weighted assets by the end of 2022, with those assets to be reinvested, leading in broadly flat RWAs between 2019 and 2022; a cutback in its adjusted cost base of $31 billion or below in 2022, aided by a new cost cut plan of $4.5 billion. As part of the move HSBC wants to suspend share buybacks for this year and 2021 because of the high level of restructuring over the next two years.

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