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HSBC: New boys face early tests

Tucker and Flint must not squander Gulliver's legacy at HSBC

HSBC has been transformed in the last seven years under the leadership of chief executive Stuart Gulliver and former chairman Douglas Flint. Those two veterans of the group took on its leadership in 2011 and overhauled a sprawling collection of separate banking franchises that previous management had rapidly accumulated in the years before the financial crisis. 

HSBC had become too complex to manage, as became painfully clear in 2012 with the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations’ report into its banking of Mexican drug cartels. But it was also too inefficient to reward shareholders and risked losing relevance to customers.

And 2017 was the pivotal year in which the benefits of this overhaul became clear to shareholders.

Under Gulliver, HSBC has exited 97 businesses, folded its tents in 20 countries, cut $309 billion of risk-weighted assets, brought the swollen balance sheet of $2.7 trillion down to $1.9 trillion, shed 65,000 full-time employees and attacked the bank’s costs.

Much of that work has been going on behind the scenes, such as centralizing IT.

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