Samir Assaf, chief executive of global banking and markets at HSBC, is a relative latecomer to the business.
Samir Assaf, HSBC
He is, however, the great survivor of his peer group: the list of investment bank chiefs at the time he took on the role now reads like ancient history: Anshu Jain, Carsten Kengeter, Jerry del Missier, Rich Ricci. They have all moved on long ago while Assaf, who took over the global banking and markets role from Stuart Gulliver when he became CEO, has gone from strength to strength.
“I came late to the capital markets in 2000 because, before moving into banking in 1994 to work in treasury and FX, I had been treasurer of an oil company,” he tells Euromoney in his office overlooking Canary Wharf in London.
Assaf, who moved to France during the Lebanese civil war and completed his studies at the Pantheon-Sorbonne University, joined French oil firm Total after leaving academia in 1987. He stayed with the firm until his move to Credit Commercial de France (CCF) in 1994, rising to become head of treasury. HSBC acquired CCF in 2000 for £6.6 billion – at the time the biggest-ever acquisition of a French company by a UK business.
“When I think back to when I started in the 1980s the most interesting things were waves of privatizations – partly to institutions and partly to retail,” he says. “This was the first time since World War II that nationalized companies had been sold.”
Assaf was appointed chief executive of global banking and markets in January 2011. In 2008, he was head of global markets at the bank when the global financial crisis hit and was instrumental in HSBC’s £12.5 billion rights issue the following year, the first private capital raising by a bank at the time. HSBC’s stock had halved since Lehman collapsed, but the rights issue called the bottom of the equity market and sent a clear signal that sentiment was beginning to turn. It set a benchmark for the rescue rights issues that followed.
Assaf emphasizes the importance of transparency and liquidity in today’s market, and is supportive of the regulatory backstops on liquidity and leverage that have been put in place, such as the liquidity coverage ratio and the net stable funding ratio. Having been a founding member of the Association for Financial Markets in Europe, he was also chairman of the Global Financial Markets Association for two and a half years from 2014.
“The basic ideas of liquidity and leverage have come back and are still the name of the game. It is nothing like it was in 2000 to 2007,” he says. “How much do the banks hold in level-three assets? Don’t look at the size of balance sheet, look at the quality of the balance sheet and the backstops. On average, banks have two times or more core capital than they had.”