Facing pressure, HSBC rethinks US strategy

Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

HSBC, a global bank with $2.7 trillion in assets, is blazing a new path for its U.S. business as it cuts $4.5 billion in costs and reallocates capital away from underperforming units.

The top-10 global bank reported Tuesday that in 2019, net profit fell 53% to $6 billion, while pre-tax profits fell 33% to $13.3 billion. The company also announced it will cut 35,000 jobs in the next three years and $100 billion in assets.

“We saw a pressing need to reallocate capital away from underperforming businesses to support the growth of higher-return businesses, particularly where we have competitive advantage,” said Chairman Mark Tucker, in a call with investors Tuesday.

For the bank’s U.S. business, this means a shift in strategy, as HSBC’s retail banking, wealth management and private banking businesses in the U.S. were loss making in 2019.

In the U.S., the bank said it would emphasize digital delivery and focus on higher earning customers. The bank’s interim chief executive, Noel Quinn, said HSBC would focus its U.S. retail banking efforts on mobile customers and reduce its branch footprint by 30%.

“We’ll embark upon a major cost and consolidation program in the US that should reduce our total costs by between 10% and 15%,” he added.

See also: HSBC to launch robo-adviser and payments products this year

HSBC has been contemplating next steps for its U.S. business for some time. According to Quinn, the bank considered selling it, but ultimately decided against this because of the pivotal role it plays in advancing HSBC’s global plans.

“The easier decision for me would have been to make the sale,” Quinn said. “The harder decision, [which] gets less headlines today and possibly less support, is to do what we believe is right for the bank.”

The bank is also making changes to its U.S. market strategy. Previously, remarked Quinn, the bank employed a “mass market, full service” approach on the East Coast, while going after more affluent, globally minded customers on the West Coast.

From now on, the bank will aim for greater consistency, focusing on affluent, internationally-oriented customers, regardless of region — an opportunity to reach a potential 40 million customers, he noted.

“Our brand plays into that market segment well,” Quinn said. “It’s our job to make sure we can do it profitably and that’s what we’ll be focused on.”

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