Hong Kong/London: A dramatic upheaval among HSBC’s top management after a boardroom row has left the bank scrambling to limit damage to its reputation but unlikely to alter its increasing focus on Asia.
Chief executive Michael Geoghegan is set to be replaced by Stuart Gulliver, the head of investment banking, and finance director Douglas Flint is to take over as chairman, a person familiar with the matter said on Thursday.
“It’s quite remarkable for a company that’s renowned for its stewardship,” said Chris Wheeler, analyst at Mediobanca in London.
“It’s got to be bad news in the short term. It’s not affecting the underlying performance, but it looks ugly and it’s unstable for a bank that’s come through this (crisis) looking very healthy,” he said.
HSBC’s London shares were up 0.4% at 667.6 pence by 0848 GMT. Its Hong Kong-listed shares were down about 0.6%.
“The overall broad strategy is going to remain constant,” said Dominic Chan, an analyst at BNP Paribas. “The (possible) Nedbank purchase and everything they’ve said recently all says they’re not going to suddenly change direction and decide they want to be an investment bank.”
The board shake-up was triggered by news two weeks ago that chairman Stephen Green was leaving for a ministerial position in the British government.
That prompted jostling for position by board members. Geoghegan threatened to quit if he was not made chairman, the Financial Times reported this week, which the bank dismissed as “nonsense”.
Flint is seen as a safe pair of hands after his long stint as finance chief. The chairman’s role has also shifted in recent years—it is now more ambassadorial and less involved in day-to-day operations.
“It’s an unusual move, but with banking becoming an increasingly regulated sector, Flint is actually a good choice,” said Daniel Tabbush, an analyst at CLSA in Bangkok.
“He’s a conservative player who knows the business well, has a clear understanding of accounting systems in various countries, as well as how profitable each country is, so he’s going to represent some continuity.”
Turmoil at the top of HSBC is untypical of the world’s third biggest bank—the largest by market value outside China.
Gulliver had been groomed for the CEO role and was given wider responsibility for running Europe and the Middle East when Geoghegan moved to Hong Kong earlier this year.
That symbolised HSBC’s greater emerging markets push—it aims to be listed on Shanghai’s international board and is in talks to buy a majority of South Africa’s Nedbank.
It was not clear if Gulliver would move to Hong Kong from his current London location.
If confirmed, Gulliver would become the second investment banking chief to be named chief executive of a top British bank this month, following Bob Diamond’s appointment as CEO of Barclays Plc.
It comes against a backdrop of potential upheaval for Britain’s banks. They will be subjected to a wide-ranging probe that will examine the possible break-up of retail and investment banks and ways to boost competition, a commission said on Friday.
HSBC has a history of promoting from within, but angered investors five years ago when it promoted Green to chairman. Critics say it is hard for a former executive to be objective about strategic decisions they may have helped make and could be reluctant to reverse them.
HSBC wrote to shareholders before the vote last time, explaining why it had not complied with best corporate practice, citing its size, geographical spread and complexity.