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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

HSBC to redouble efforts in China under new leadership

HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong. The lender plans to push for expansion in China. Bobby Yip/Reuters
HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong. The lender plans to push for expansion in China. Bobby Yip/Reuters

HSBC will seek to cut internal bureaucracy and expand investment in China's southern region to the rest of the country, executives at the bank said, in the first hints of the strategy to be pursued by its new leadership.

Mark Tucker, the bank's first externally appointed chairman, told analysts and investors at a meeting in Hong Kong that trimming the bank's bloated governance structure was one of his top priorities.

Mr Tucker, who took over as chairman last October, has cut the lender's board from more than 20 to 14 and plans to slash more committees and processes, the meeting heard.

The presentation, meanwhile, offered the first sign for investors that the bank's new chief executive, John Flint, will increase HSBC's pivot towards Asia and China in particular, despite some setbacks to the plan launched in June 2015.

HSBC said at that time it would hire 4,000 more staff and invest billions to make the Pearl River Delta its gateway to China, a retail and corporate banking push that bet on a tech boom, infrastructure spending and a growing middle class.

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But the presentation to investors this week showed the bank's profits in mainland China retail banking in 2017 fell by 7 per cent compared with a year earlier.

Chinese regulations that stipulate customers must visit a branch to open an account have slowed HSBC's technology-based push, analysts at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods said, since the lender has 227 outlets in China where local banks have thousands.

The presentation gives the clearest indication yet that HSBC's new management team will intensify its focus on China, betting on the country's economic growth to bolster profits that have sagged in recent years amid low global interest rates, restructuring costs and ever-tighter regulation.

Mr Tucker said investors would get a fuller picture of Mr Flint's new strategy before the bank announces its first-half results in July.

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