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Banking

Why Westerman’s departure from HSBC became inevitable

Attempts to refocus the global banking division led to culture clashes at an institution that is notoriously hard to bend to an individual’s will.

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For all that banks have been forced by regulation to resemble one another more closely since the financial crisis, one of the joys of covering global finance is to understand that all banks remain distinctive animals. These institutions have their own personalities, forged over long periods of time and by generations of leaders and troops. Most people call it culture.

Too often the people running these banks forget that. I have lost count of the number of times a new hire has been brought into a senior role at a bank from outside. The hire looks good on paper, but from day one something makes you think it might not work out. 

I was reminded of this in November when Matthew Westerman, co-head of global banking at HSBC, left the bank. 

The news will have come as a shock to the many outside observers who had been tipping him as a future CEO. But for close watchers of HSBC, it was not so much of a surprise.

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