HSBC may slash 10,000 jobs to cut costs

HSBC's cost-cutting drive comes as global banks lay off staff, with the industry facing low or negative interest rates and weak investment banking revenues. PHOTO: REUTERS
HSBC's cost-cutting drive comes as global banks lay off staff, with the industry facing low or negative interest rates and weak investment banking revenues. PHOTO: REUTERS

Plan is lender's most ambitious attempt to rein in costs in years, say sources

LONDON • HSBC has embarked on a cost-cutting drive that threatens up to 10,000 jobs, as its new interim chief executive Noel Quinn seeks to make his mark on the bank.

The plan represents the lender's most ambitious attempt to rein in costs in years, two people briefed on it told the Financial Times.

They said it would result in a substantial reduction in HSBC's headcount of roughly 238,000.

"We've known for years that we need to do something about our cost base, the largest component of which is people - now we are finally grasping the nettle," said one of the people. "There's some very hard modelling going on. We are asking why we have so many people in Europe when we've got double-digit returns in parts of Asia."

When asked about the potential impact on HSBC's Singapore staff, an HSBC Singapore spokesman said the bank will not be commenting on the reported "speculation". He pointed to HSBC's appointment last month of banking veteran Philip Lee as its Singapore-based vice-chairman of global banking for South-east Asia - a newly created role.

In August, when the bank announced its half-year results, its group chief financial officer Ewen Stevenson said it remains committed to its Singapore operations and will size headcount accordingly even as it cuts about 2 per cent of its workforce globally this year.

Group chairman Mark Tucker also said then that Singapore is one of eight strategic countries the bank is investing in.

Any job cuts implemented as part of the bank's latest plan would come on top of 4,700 redundancies which HSBC recently announced amid what it described as "an increasingly complex and challenging global environment" characterised by low interest rates, trade conflicts and Brexit uncertainty.

A large chunk of those job cuts were implemented under a scheme which tried to encourage executives and managers to shrink their teams by offering funding from a central pot of money to cover redundancy payouts.

HSBC's latest cost-cutting drive, which will focus mainly on high-paid roles, comes as global banks lay off tens of thousands of staff as the industry contends with low or negative interest rates and weak investment banking revenues.

Deutsche Bank in August said it would eliminate 18,000 roles as part of a radical overhaul. Barclays, Societe Generale and Citigroup have also announced job cuts this year.

When asked about the potential impact on HSBC's Singapore staff, a spokesman said the bank will not be commenting on the reported "speculation". He pointed to HSBC's appointment last month of banking veteran Philip Lee as its Singapore-based vice-chairman of global banking for South-east Asia - a newly created role.

Mr Quinn started work on the new cost-cutting plan days after he was appointed interim chief executive following the exit of his predecessor John Flint, who was dismissed in part because he avoided "difficult decisions" on job cuts, said one of the people.

During Mr Flint's short tenure as chief executive, the bank grappled with a declining stock price, a high-profile sexual harassment case at its investment bank and a failure to hit cost targets.

Mr Quinn has been told that he is a leading internal candidate for the chief executive role and that he has the authority to make big strategic decisions, the person added.

Mr Quinn is working with Mr Stevenson, who substantially lowered costs when he held the same role at Royal Bank of Scotland.

HSBC could announce that it has begun the cost-cutting exercise when it reports third-quarter results later this month, one of the people said, although the bank has not yet made a final decision on when to make the plan public.

Mr Quinn and Mr Stevenson are trying to find savings in each of the bank's four major divisions, which service multinational corporations, smaller businesses, retail customers and wealthy individuals, one of the people said.

Another person said the plan would not prevent the bank from continuing to hire "revenue-generating" staff in high-growth regions in Asia, where it generates nearly 80 per cent of its profits.

The bank said last month that it is sticking with plans to hire more than 600 for its wealth business in Asia by the end of 2022, with more than half of those jobs to be added through this year.

FINANCIAL TIMES, BLOOMBERG

Additional reporting by Joanna Seow

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2019, with the headline 'HSBC may slash 10,000 jobs to cut costs'. Print Edition | Subscribe