Since its Midland days, HSBC has the reputation of being the bank that can make a mess of pretty much anything. So it’s with some caution that we should welcome today’s ferocious strategic reset for the group.
However, despite being an HSBC lifer, interim chief executive Noel Quinn has come up with what’s needed; a wholesale closure of large chunks of the business, against an overall philosophy that the bank must stop trying to do too much for too little return.
Quinn has recognised HSBC’s biggest strength is in its uniquely strong global presence, particularly across Asia, where it has been serving corporate customers since 1865.
Global investment banking and straggling retail operations in France and the US will never have the scale to take on the likes of JPMorgan or big domestic rivals. They might have got away with it when the cost of borrowing was 4%-5%, but with the new normal of zero, or even negative rates, there’s nowhere to hide.
So, Quinn has decided he will only be running investment banking operations to help existing corporate banking clients with their international trade.
Sadly, that means big cuts at Canary Wharf, but HSBC must deploy its assets to areas that will provide it with better returns. Namely, Asia.
There are elements which should have seen more detail. The famous bureaucracy that feather-beds managers from the marzipan level and up — got too little mention. The oddball US operations — one bank in the east, a very different one in the west — still look rather unfocused.
But the general thrust back to HSBC’s core strengths is solid.
The mystery is, given that chairman Mark Tucker and his board have approved the Quinn plan, why not make him permanent CEO today?