Flint, 51, spent almost 30 years at the bank before he became CEO with the promise to "continue to innovate and accelerate the pace of change." Handout.

In a move seen by many as a big setback, the chief executive of HSBC has stepped down after less than two years in the job, as the banking giant revealed solid first half profits but warned it faced “challenging” geopolitics, China Daily reported.

The bank has also said it could cut nearly 5,000 jobs due to a weaker outlook, and the departure of John Flint comes as trade-war tensions flare between the United States and China.

Under Flint’s leadership, the bank has pivoted to Asia, which accounted for more than half of its operating income in the second quarter.

HSBC Chairman Mark Tucker said talks over Flint’s future had been “going on for a while” and the decision was not taken lightly.

“In the increasingly complex and challenging global environment in which the bank operates, the board believes a change is needed to meet the challenges that we face and to capture the very significant opportunities before us,” Tucker said. “This is a decision about the future.”

HSBC said it would look both internally and externally for a new leader and that Noel Quinn, head of the commercial banking division, will be interim CEO in the meantime, the report said.

The 51-year-old Flint ran the bank’s retail and wealth management business before taking over as chief executive last year. At that time, he was seen as a safe choice for the top job and was known to be the favored selection of his predecessor, Stuart Gulliver.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Tucker said: “This had nothing to do with personalities; this was a unanimous decision of the non-executive directors.”

Tucker denied that Flint was opposed to new cost cutting plans, which HSBC revealed recently would result in up to 4,700 job cuts, or 2% of its 237,685-strong global workforce. The move is expected to hit senior staff the hardest, helping reduce salary costs by as much as 4%.

HSBC made the surprise announcement as it reported a 15.8% rise in pretax profit to US$12.4 billion for the six months to June 30.

Ronit Ghose, bank analyst at Citi, told the FT that Tucker and HSBC’s directors had “clearly lost confidence in (Flint’s) ability to navigate the tougher outlook faced by HSBC given the geopolitical and macro uncertainties, structural headwinds for global banks, and digital disruption challenges.”

“In addition, we believe there were likely differences in style between the outgoing CEO and the chairman,” Ghose added.

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