The position of Standard Chartered's chief executive, Peter Sands, was under ever greater pressure yesterday as a profit warning sent the FTSE 100 bank's shares to a three-year low.
A source close to one non-executive director said: "This will accelerate next year's succession" – a reference to a desire in some parts of the boardroom for Mr Sands to make an exit at or before next May's annual meeting.
A Standard Chartered spokesman denied any such plan existed. The emerging markets lender said its first-half profits would be 20 per cent down, hitting earnings for the full-year, because of tougher regulations and low market volatility in its trading business.
The bank also said the head of its financial markets business, Lenny Feder, will take a year's sabbatical "for personal family reasons". He is the third top executive to leave in recent months, including the finance director Richard Meddings.
Significantly, if he returns, he will not come back in the same role and Standard Chartered has launched the hunt for a full-time replacement.
Mr Sands said: "This has been a disappointing first half, with difficult trading conditions, particularly in financial markets.
"As we navigate this difficult period, we remain focused on the drivers of value creation for our shareholders, continuing to build our franchise to make the most of the enormous opportunities in our markets."
Standard Chartered shares plunged more than 6 per cent to 1,173p, before closing down 4.3 per cent at 1,203p.
The bank is struggling in South Korea, India and Singapore, although it says China and Africa are doing well. Provisions against bad loans are also on the increase, with the bank warning that these would be up in the "high teens". However, Mr Sands insisted the bank could get past its troubles.
"Cyclical headwinds are yet to arrive in full force in the bank's two key markets – Hong Kong and Singapore. Not that Korea or India is out of the woods either," said Chirantan Barua, an analyst at the broker Bernstein, who rates the bank "underperform".
A Standard Chartered spokesperson added: "The Board of Standard Chartered fully supports the management team, led by Peter Sands our Group Chief Executive, which is steering the bank through the current difficult market environment and taking effective action to address these trading conditions."
Plan scrapped: No bank levy change
The Government has ruled out changing its bank levy after resistance from the industry. George Osborne proposed putting banks into different bands, with each band charged a set amount, in his last Budget.
However, the Government said yesterday that feedback suggested the change would create uncertainty, strengthen the incentive for banks to relocate activities overseas and create arbitrary differences between the tax rates. The levy has yet to raise the targeted £2.5bn.