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Opinion

HSBC: Locating Green’s successor

The choice of HSBC’s next chairman will tell you everything you need to know about the bank’s future.

The announcement that Bob Diamond will take over as chief executive of Barclays – probably the least surprising piece of news of the past three years to many in the banking industry – dominated the headlines in the UK in September, even in the mainstream media.

But there was a much more intriguing announcement on the same day: the news that Stephen Green was to step down as executive chairman of HSBC from the start of next year.

Green’s impending departure is no big surprise. His future role as a minister in the UK’s coalition government makes sense as well. Green has always been careful to communicate his strongly held conviction that capitalism must have a caring side. This would no doubt appeal to bank-bashing business secretary Vince Cable.

The breaking of the story seemed to catch HSBC on the hop. There was no information in its press release about how Green would be replaced, except to say that the decision-making process was under way and would be completed before the end of the year. It was, perhaps, a painful lesson that Whitehall is much more leak-ridden than Wall Street or Canary Wharf.

But here’s the issue that most people are missing: how Green is replaced, and by whom, will inform the direction of HSBC in a way that few successions have in recent times.

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