HSBC chief executive Stuart Gulliver yesterday unveiled a shake up of the bank's top management as he began to reshape his team in the wake of his promotion, sparked by the departure of predecessor Michael Geoghegan.
The most significant move is the promotion of Paul Thurston, the bank's head of UK, to the role of chief executive of a newly combined global retail banking and wealth management division. As such he will return to Hong Kong, where he has previously worked, and which is increasingly the bank's power centre and location of Mr Gulliver's office. The move is another indication of the weight HSBC places on the region and its desire to boost its wealth management and retail banking operations there.
HSBC insiders last night insisted, however, that Mr Thurston's move should not be seen as an indication that the bank planned to move its headquarters to Hong Kong, after London's position is reviewed next year. However, executives have repeatedly claimed that shareholders have been urging them to look at the cost of being in London and recent statements on the matter could be seen as equivocal at best.
The promotion of the affable Mr Thurston to be chief executive of what will be one of HSBC's four global businesses, also establishes him as Mr Gulliver's man following a spate of unprecedented boardroom turmoil and a series of damaging leaks sparked by the departure of chairman Stephen Green to join the Government as trade minister and the resulting battle to replace him. It ultimately led to the appointment of compromise candidate Douglas Flint, who had been finance director, and the departure of Mr Geoghegan, the first chief executive not to step up into the chairman's office in decades.
Mr Thurston's job in Britain will be taken by the bank's chief risk officer, Brian Robertson, who will report to Sandy Flockhart, who as head of Asia and boss of global retail and commercial banking, had previously headed a broad retail and commercial banking operation and had been by some seen as a possible rival to Mr Gulliver.
The latter's move to London could also be seen as a sign of diminished status. In his new job he is chairman of Europe, the Middle East & Africa and of Latin America although his operational responsibilities are much diminished.
Mr Robertson will be replaced by Marc Moses, who had previously had the role of heading the risk function in HSBC's investment bank.
Mr Gulliver said the changes see "some of HSBC's most talented and internationally experienced executives take on significant new responsibilities. After the financial crisis, I believe customers are thinking more carefully about who they trust with their wealth and savings and configuring HSBC to realise its full potential in retail banking was always going to be my first priority."