News analysis

S'pore operations still play key role in StanChart's future

Republic is a vital hub for the bank's targeted areas of investment

The woes besetting British lender Standard Chartered over the past three years have left their mark on Singapore.

As one of the bank's regional hubs with operations spanning commercial, retail and private banking and wealth management, Singapore has had to bear some job cuts and the restructuring of some business units.

Nonetheless, a strategy update unveiled yesterday by chief executive Bill Winters provides some hopeful indications that the operations here will continue to play an important role in StanChart's future. With indications that more power will be given to regional bases like Singapore, it is undoubtedly the case that Singapore remains one of the strongest franchises in the group.

And even amid cost-cutting and restructuring across the bank, StanChart has made large investments here in the past couple of years. In fact, Singapore will be a key recipient of the increased investments in key growth areas that StanChart plans to make over the next few years.

Two of the areas that StanChart plans to invest significantly in over the next few years are private banking and wealth management, and yuan internationalisation - both businesses for which Singapore is a key hub.

In fact, the bank said its yuan deposits in Singapore have tripled since June last year.

Its yuan assets, such as trade loans and working capital loans, have doubled in the same period.

Singapore is also the hub to be in for banks that want to manage Asean's rapidly growing wealth.

The latest earnings figures for the Singapore business are not available, but Singapore chief executive officer Judy Hsu, said the operation here is still the second-largest contributor to the group, while also providing a strong base for StanChart to grow its regional businesses.

To be sure, things have not been all rosy here. One sign of trouble could have been the sudden departure of former long-time Singapore chief executive Ray Ferguson to a Bahrain bank early last year with little explanation.

His exit came as a surprise not least because he had become a Singapore citizen in 2010, a move he said reflected his commitment to a country that had been home to him and his family for a long time.

His replacement, Mr Neeraj Swaroop, lasted only about a year before wealth management head Judy Hsu took over on Oct 1.

A former senior executive told The Straits Times that there has been a series of departures of senior managers, from private and consumer banking and retail banking, since 2013.

That was the year the bank first reported a drop in earnings after 10 straight years of delivering record profits. In the first six months of this year, net profit plunged 36.7 per cent compared with the same period a year ago.

The stock has fallen more than 30 per cent this year.

StanChart Singapore employees told The Straits Times that there have been some senior departures in the past few months and that some staff are thinking about leaving now in order to avoid a sudden loss of their jobs.

But it is understood that the impact of the bank's latest restructuring exercise will be minimal in Singapore.

Even as Singapore's position remains strong, analysts say the biggest challenge remains: What will StanChart's future income stream look like?

"It's not just China slowing down, but that the overall bank's income-generating power that's under huge pressure," added the former StanChart executive.

And neither is it a simple decision to just move the headquarters out of London, as there are various complex issues such as regulation.

The consensus seems to be that StanChart Singapore will have to sit tight to see how it rides out the turmoil, but there is a reasonable chance that it will emerge in a stronger position than before.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore operations still play key role in StanChart's future'. Print Edition | Subscribe