But there was a much more intriguing announcement today: the news that Stephen Green is stepping down as executive chairman of HSBC from the start of next year.
Greens departure to pastures new is no immediate surprise. His future role as a minister in the UKs coalition government makes sense as well. Green has always been careful to communicate his strongly-held convictions that capitalism must have a caring side. This would no doubt appeal to bank-bashing business secretary Vince Cable.
The breaking of the story this morning seemed to catch HSBC on the hop. The bank issued its statement at around 13.00BST today. Green was leaving, as the wires had suggested, but there was no information about how he would be replaced. It was, perhaps, a painful lesson that Whitehall is much more leak-ridden than Wall Street or Canary Wharf.
Why? You only have to look back to the comments of investment bank chief Stuart Gulliver last week for the answer. He made it clear that HSBC was not tied to its UK regulatory base. The bank did not want to quit its home in London, but it might be forced to if the Cable & Co introduced measures that harmed it.
That may not happen, at least in the short term. Those who know Geoghegan well say he is far from done as group chief executive. He has many ambitions left. The role of chairman is vital, but Geoghegan will prefer to continue to operate within the markets that he loves and understands.
But it gets more complicated. Its little known that when Geoghegan moved to Hong Kong, the FSA made it clear to HSBC that, if they wished to continue to be regulated in the UK, then they would need to commit to keep an executive chairman in London.
Could Greens departure, in light of Gullivers recent comments, herald the end of that arrangement? HSBC has also felt pressure from shareholders to end its policy of having an executive chairman. Bank insiders have long said that the obvious candidate on the board, should a non-exec chair role become available, is former Goldman Sachs president and Sinophile John Thornton. He would certainly fit the bill for HSBCs eastward-looking ambitions. But would he relocate to London and would he want a full-time role?
Finding an executive chairman to work in London, in parallel with Geoghegan but 6,000 miles distant, may prove difficult. HSBC would not want to appoint from outside. Gulliver will wait his turn to become chief executive.
Flint, Thornton or someone else the decision, promised by the end of the year but certain to come before that -- will tell us a lot more about the future of HSBC than any press release.
Is Winters next in line for great HSBC reshuffle?
Friday, September 24, 2010