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HSBC’s big push into Asia: what it means for jobs at the bank

HSBC’s adjusted pre-tax profit of $6,033m for the first quarter is in many senses disappointing. It was down 3% from a year earlier and fell short of analysts’ estimates.

From an Asian perspective, however, HSBC’s Q1 financial results highlight the scope of its expansion in the region – growth which has also contributed to its rising cost base. If you’re thinking about applying to HSBC in Asia, here’s what its latest numbers tell us about jobs at the bank.

HSBC’s pivot to Asia shows no signs of stopping

Asia generated $4,756m in adjusted profit before tax in Q1, up 8% from a year earlier. By contrast, Europe’s contribution to profit fell 72% to $222m over the same period, while North America’s declined 16% to $438m. Asia now accounts for 79% of HSBC’s profit. This suggests that the firm is doubling down on its pivot to Asia (and to China in particular), a strategy that seeks to redeploy $100bn or more of assets into the region. HSBC announced the plans in 2015, adding that it would hire 4,000 staff in the Pearl River Delta region in southern China, although it still faces strong competition from local banks there.

HSBC is hiring investment bankers in China…

As we predicted in February, HSBC Qianhai Securities, the first joint-venture securities company in mainland China to be majority owned by a foreign bank, has been hiring in the first quarter. HSBC made “made strategic hires in our securities joint venture in mainland China”, group chief executive John Flint, said in a statement within the bank’s financial report, without elaborating. Qianhai, which was launched in December, already has licences to offer equity and debt sponsoring and underwriting, equity research and brokerage of locally-listed securities, and domestic and cross-border M&A advisory. First quarter investment in Qianhai (and in digital banking – see below) contributed to rising costs at HSBC, Flint said.

…and expanding in digital

As we reported in August, HSBC is hiring more technologists, product managers, developers and content producers as it expands its digital-banking team in Hong Kong, its main digital development centre alongside London. This expansion appears to have continued into Q1. Flint said in his statement that the bank has “invested to enhance our digital capabilities in all our global businesses”.

HSBC’s Asian private bankers are getting more productive

HSBC’s Global Private Banking division makes up just 2% of its profits globally, but it is expanding in Asia, particularly in Hong Kong. Revenue in the division increased by $45m or 10%, “mainly in Hong Kong, as higher investment revenue reflected increased client activity, and deposit revenue increased as we benefited from wider spreads”. Although HSBC’s report doesn’t reveal regional revenue or profit figures for GPB (or other divisions), it does disclose client assets. First-quarter AUM in Asia rose 18% year-on-year to $131bn. But while rivals – from UBS to UBP – have been aggressively hiring in the sector, HSBC’s headcount of relationship managers in Asia stayed static at 470 last year, according to Asian Private Banker. The AUM increase suggest that HSBC’s existing RMs are becoming more productive.

Wealth managers are selling more products in Asia

The first quarter was also a fruitful one for RMs working in wealth management in Asia. Their unit (which serves clients who aren’t rich enough to use the private bank and is part of HSBC’s wider Retail Banking and Wealth Management division) saw its global income rise 27% year on year to $1,829m. The increase “was primarily in investment distribution, reflecting higher sales of retail securities and mutual funds in Asia, following increased investor confidence”.

Bread-and-butter bankers are doing well in Asia (again)

Like their counterparts at rival Asia-focused banks Standard Chartered and DBS, Asian transaction bankers performed well at HSBC in Q1. Revenue within the Commercial Banking division increased by $0.3bn or 10%, notably in global liquidity and cash management, as HSBC “benefited from wider deposit spreads in Hong Kong and mainland China”. Credit and lending revenue also increased in Hong Kong.

Image credit: Anson_iStock, Getty

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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