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HSBC to slash 15% of workforce, take US$7.3 bil of charges in revamp

Bloomberg
Bloomberg • 3 min read
HSBC to slash 15% of workforce, take US$7.3 bil of charges in revamp
HSBC expects to cut as many as 35,000 jobs over the next three years.
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(Feb 18): HSBC Holdings is set to slash about 15% of its workforce, and is taking US$7.3 billion ($10.1 billion) of charges in its latest attempt to revive its fortunes since the global financial crisis.

The London-based lender is also targeting cost cuts by US$4.5 billion as it faces challenges including Hong Kong protests and the coronavirus. HSBC, which earns the bulk of its profits in Asia, is still hunting for a permanent chief executive officer while interim boss Noel Quinn runs the lender and seeks to convince the undecided board he’s the right person at the top.

“Parts of our business are not delivering acceptable returns,” Quinn said in a statement as part of its full-year earnings on Tuesday. “We are therefore outlining a revised plan to increase returns for investors.”

Quinn, who is also exiting several business lines, said in an interview with Bloomberg that “it’s fair to say that our direction of travel will be to move the current headcount of 235,000 to be closer to 200,000 over the next three years.”

HSBC shares had their biggest drop in six months in Hong Kong and dropped as much as 3.2% in trading. The bank warned its 2020 outlook is uncertain.

Cutbacks at HSBC will also extend into parts of its European and US investment banking businesses, particularly in fixed income. In the US, assets linked to its trading operations will be nearly halved under the new plan. HSBC is also scaling back its retail network by 30%.

The lender will instead bolster its investment banking units in Asia and the Middle East.

A refreshed strategy is a key plank to Chairman Mark Tucker’s plans to transform HSBC as questions have mounted over its relatively poor returns given its exposure to many of the world’s fastest-growing economies, in particular China where it has focused its investment.

The US$7.3 billion in charges includes US$4 billion linked to its global banking and markets division, which houses the investment bank. A further US$2.5 billion stems from its European commercial bank.

HSBC’s adjusted pre-tax profits of US$22.2 billion beat analysts’ forecasts, despite the multi-billion dollar charge taken against the cost of the restructuring. HSBC had been forecast to report an adjusted pre-tax profit of $21.8 billion, according to the company-compiled estimate of 18 analysts.

The company also suspended its share buyback program for 2020 and 2021.

Highlights of the cuts include:

  • Gross asset reduction of more than US$100 billion by the end of 2022
  • Lowered cost base of US$31 billion or less by 2022
  • Cut US branch network by 30%
  • Consolidate US fixed-income business in London
  • Combine consumer banking and private banking into a single wealth platform
  • Will merge global banking and commercial banking middle and back offices
  • Reducing geographic reporting lines from seven to four

Previous boss John Flint was ousted as CEO last year in part over Tucker’s concerns the executive lacked the ability to turnaround the lender’s performance. Quinn, Tucker and chief financial officer Ewen Stevenson then began developing plans aimed at shrinking the bank’s cost base and focusing on higher returning markets, while curtailing exposures to regions and operations deemed subpar.

The bank continued to reshuffle its senior ranks and said private banking head Antonio Simoes would leave the London-based lender later this year, after the unit was folded into its wider retail and wealth business.

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