Standard slims down with workforce cuts

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The Independent Online
Standard Chartered, the international banking group, yesterday warned of heavy staff cuts among its 25,000-strong workforce in coming months, citing an "unacceptable" cost-to-income ratio as the deciding factor.

The bank's move came despite unveiling a 31 per cent increase in first- half trading profits to pounds 402m, while pre-tax returns rose pounds 129m to pounds 448m.

Malcolm Williamson, chief executive at Standard Chartered, criticised the bank's 55 per cent cost-to-income ratio and said that it must be reduced to under 50 per cent in the short-term.

He said: "A medium-sized bank like Standard Chartered must be a low-cost operator to be nimble and flexible. [The bank] will have to re-engineer the business, introduce more automation and wean out businesses which are not producing satisfactory results."

However, he indicated that any job cuts were less likely to occur in economically advanced countries, where there already have been staff reductions. In the past three years the bank has axed16 per cent of its workforce, 3 per cent of which suffered the cuts in the past six months.

Standard's shares touched a high of 719p in early trading, but slipped back to close at 699p, down 13p on the day.

The bank's pre-tax returns were boosted by exceptionals of pounds 42m, much of which came from the sale of its private banking business to Swiss Bank Corporation.

Some 38 per cent of the bank's total trading profit came from Hong Kong, at present under British control but due to be handed back to China in 1997. "We are very happy about what we see out there. It is quite remarkable what's been achieved," Mr Williamson said.

He added: "I don't think growth rates in Hong Kong are going to be quite as high as people hoped but nevertheless they are very positive and they are higher than what we are seeing in the UK."

Standard Chartered would not follow other banks, such as National Westminster and Barclays, which are conducting share buy-backs to return value to their shareholders, Mr Williamson said: "We are in very high-growth markets. Balance sheet growth is significant and we need a solid base to generate growth."

He admitted, however, that the bank had so far spotted few acquisition opportunities. Mr Williamson added that Standard Chartered would continue to make growth in other areas such as credit cards, through its connections with Visa and Mastercard.