Showing posts with label HSBC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label HSBC. Show all posts

Friday, 14 October 2011

HSBC goes back to its roots

HSBC announced its return to its roots as a bank that supports international trade in the strategy announcement on May 11th. Stuart Gulliver, the new CEO and former investment banker, has firmly changed the emphasis back to becoming 'the leading international bank concentrating on Commercial and Wholesale banking in globally connected markets'.



Stuart Gulliver

Whilst the words may be modern, this is what the bank was first set up for in Hong Kong in 1865. Supporting international trade alongside the Taipan at Jardines. 'globally connected markets' are the twenty first century words for what is essentially trade routes, though expanded beyond commodities and goods to include money. So when you look at the US and Mexico or Germany and Turkey, as well as the large amount of trade flowing, you see large quantities of money flowing across borders sent by entrepreneurial immigrants back to their families, the strategic value of being in these geographies makes abundant sense.

'Becoming the world's leading international private bank' is also a return to the original roots. Support the international trading companies and support their owners - again what the original HSBC was set up to do for the taipans living on The Peak. In addition with the focus on Wealth Management HSBC is ensuring that as the entrepreneurs acquire their wealth there is a route to climb up to the exclusivity of the Private Bank.

The real change of focus is on 'limiting retail banking to those markets where we can achieve profitable scale', but who can argue with the cold logic of that? What it does mean is that questions are undoubtedly being asked as to whether the use of the strapline that has been so successful and has won so many awards, 'The World's local bank',  will still be valid, unless of course your definition of 'the world' is restricted to the number of focus countries, considerably less than the 80+ countries that HSBC currently operates in.
With the announcement of the sale of its Hungarian retail banking operations to Cofidis Magyarorszagi Fioktelepe, the sale to Itau (the Brazilian bank) of its Chilean retail operation and discussions underway for the sale of its small (11 branch) South Korean retail bank, the strategy of withdrawal is in full execution.

However it is not all about withdrawal. In Australia HSBC has opened its 31st retail branch as it builds its presence there. Whilst there is an increasingly large and affluent Asian population which HSBC will be attractive to it is difficult to understand how this fits in with HSBC's strategy to focus on markets where it can grow a significant presence given the dominance of the 'Four Pillars' - Nab, CBA, ANZ and Westpac in Australia. 

HSBC has clearly made some diversions from its original path along the 146 years that it has been running, not least of all the move into the subprime market with the acquisition of Household in the US (the remains of which is now subject to review and may results in the selling of all or part of the cards and retail banking businesses), but it is to be welcomed the statement of intent to move to a 21st century version of what it was originally set up for.


Thursday, 5 May 2011

PPI - A sign of the mad, bad world

The announcement that Antonio Horta-Osorio, the new CEO of Lloyds Banking Group has decided to draw a line under the sorry PPI (Payment Protection Insurance) situation, take a reserve of £3.2bn and withdraw from the BBA (British Bankers' Association) appeal against the recent judgement should be welcomed as a sensible, pragmatic move and hopefully bring a close to the mad, bad world that was operating at the time that the misselling was taking place.

When the sale of PPI was at its peak the banks and finance houses were working in a market where personal loans were being sold at a loss as competition had driven the prices down and demand for funds driven the wholesale prices up. Banks and Finance Houses were prepared to sell these loans at a loss because they were able to sell Payment Protection Insurance at such a high premium, with very little chance of a claim against them due to the convoluted terms and conditions. Staff were heavily incentivised to sell PPI because that was where the profit came from and as a result hard-selling took place.

Consumers actually got loans at lower interest rates than they should have, so a good proportion of customers (primarily those who didn't take out PPI) were getting a good deal, so it wasn't all a terrible rip off for bank customers.

Hopefully the other banks and Finance Houses will follow the lead set by Lloyds Banking Group and draw this sorry episode to a halt. (UPDATE: All the other major banks have followed suit with RBSG writing off £850m, Santander £538m, Barclays £1bn and HSBC £270m or a total just under £6bn). That doesn't mean that everyone who claims should get their money back, because there are a surprisingly large number of claims being made by people who either didn't take out PPI or worse still didin't even take out a loan. The process of weeding out the fraudulent claims and processing the valid claims will undoubtedly take some time.

What should happen now is that loans and credit cards move to being priced realistically, based on the wholesale market prices and with a reasonable risk-adjusted price. This may be a shock to customers, but at least it will represent a fair price.

The fall out from the financial crisis is that retail banking needs to change, but the changes and expectations need to be not only on the banks' side but also the consumers.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Why the Big 5 banks should be pushing for the end of 'free banking' (and the government shouldn't)

With the ICB (Independent Commission on Banking) looking at increasing competition in the retail banking sector, examining the market share of the big banks and overall looking for greater fairness and transparency in charging, strongly supported by the likes of Vince Cable and other politicians, increasingly it looks as if the end of 'free banking' is in sight. Of course 'free banking' doesn't really exist, rather it is a mirage in that rather than paying directly for the services provided, consumers are made to pay by low or no interest rates for money deposited in current accounts, low interest rates in deposit accounts, high mortgage rates and even higher overdraft charges. As consumers baulk at the costs charged for loans and going overdrawn and politicians continually call for fairer, transparent charges, the inevitable conclusion is a banking system where customers pay for the services they use.

Being able to charge a direct amount for the services they provide would bring some significant advantages to the big banks in the heavily regulated environment that they are increasingly operating in. When there is more focus on the market share that each of the banks has, and where more market share is seen as bad, then the banks will want to focus not on the absolute market share but the quality of the market share.

All of the big banks today have customers that they don't make any money from. These will be the types of customers that open a current account for their household money, for their book club, for their children, where the balances are low, transactions sizes are small and they have only one product. If market share is going to be restricted then these are the customers that the banks are going to want to be shot of. The problem is that in today's banking environment it is very difficult for a bank to fire customers. However if customers were made to pay directly for the services that they use then it would be far easier for the banks to adjust their charges to either makes the low balance/low transaction value customers profitable or, better still for the banks, to encourage those customers to take their business elsewhere.

With four out of the five big banks now being run by investment bankers not retail bankers, and Barclays, HSBC and Lloyds Banking Group focussed on a strategy of raising their Return on Equity (ROE) up to at least the 14-15% range, then there is clear evidence that making customers pay directly for the services they use can help achieve this. In Australia where this model has existed for many years, The 'Four Pillars' (National Australia, Commonwealth Bank, WestPac and ANZ), have in the past enjoyed ROEs of 20+%. Even with tougher regulation they are each expecting ROEs of around 16%, significantly higher than any of the UK banks.

However whilst this all sounds very attractive for the big banks, it is not great for the new entrants, who will struggle to compete with the scale advantages that will allow the big banks to make their charges attractive for the customers they want. It also raises the big question of who will provide the banking services to the customers that the big banks don't want? It has the potential to significantly increase the number of the unbanked. As the likes of Vince Cable continue their crusade against the banks and push for ever more transparency of charging for banking services, the politicians need to be wary of the consequences of getting what they wish for.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

HSBC to quit Russian Retail Banking

HSBC has announced that it is pulling out of retail banking in Russia. This follows on the heels of Santander who exited Russian retail banking in December 201 by selling their consumer lending business to Orient Express Bank and Barclays who announced their exit from Russian retail banking in February 2011 having written down £243m on an acquisition.

HSBC and Santander are two of the most successful Western banks in emerging markets with both being strong players in Latin America, and HSBC being very well established in Asia with Santander building it's presence there. (See http://www.itsafinancialworld.net/2011/03/santander-moves-into-rural-china.html ) It is therefore very telling that both of these banks have decided that domestic competition makes it too tough and not profitable enough for them to continue to offer retail banking in Russia. Certainly building a significant presence in Russia, given the vastness of the country and given that most banks still believe that having a physical branch network is key to winning in retail banking, is a significant investment and capital demands from existing markets rising, it is understandable how they might have come to this conclusion.

Interestingly HSBC's and Santander's views are not shared by the French banks, with both Societe Generale and BNP Paribas continuing to invest in and grow their retail banking presence in Russia. Citibank has also built up a strong retail presence in retail banking in Russia. This was under the leadership of Frits Seegers who then moved from Citi to Barclays and repeated, less successfully, the opening of retail branches in Russia.

To date Santander does not seem to have made a strategic error in their expansion plans, so it will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Spanish-Swiss Strategic move in South America

In what sounds like a very smart move Zurich has taken a 51% stake in Santander's South American insurance business. Latin America is one of the few regions that seems to have come out largely unimpacted from the financial meltdown and with the fastest growing number of high net worth individuals this region continues to grow at a pace. The investment by Zurich will give them access to Santander's 5600+ branches and 36 million customers in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Santander has been established in South America for over 25 years and has a dominant position in many of the markets, with HSBC and, to a much lesser extent, Citibank, the main global rivals. In return Santander frees up $1.2bn of much needed capital given the problems at home in Spain and the increased levels of capital required by regulation. This deal seems to make a lot of sense for both parties.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Why ring-fencing and holding more capital may not be the answer

An interesting background article by The Economist on Ring-fencing and holding more capital and why there is no simple answer to making tax payers safe from large global banks.

http://www.economist.com/node/18013923

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Will RDR see the end of advice in the bank branch?

With the recent announcement by Barclays of the withdrawal of investment advisors from their branches, coming on the back of (but unrelated according to Barclays) a record fine for misselling of investment products and the announcement that Norwich & Peterborough Building Society is transferring its in-branch IFAs to Aviva, where they will become restricted advisors, does the introduction of the Retail Distribution Review rules mean the end of the provision of advice in branches?

In principle no one can argue with the requirements of RDR that customers should expect to be given advice by qualified people who can either advise about the whole market of investment and insurance products or make it very clear that they can only advise on a restricted set of products from a restricted set of providers. Equally in principle no one can argue that if the advisors are providing value with their advice that the customer should pay for that advice and that the customer should be free of the concern that the advice is being influenced by the amount of commission that the advisor is being paid.

The challenge for the banks is that in order to get their staff up to the standards to pass the qualifications to be allowed to advise customers requires a significant investment in training and when compared with potential returns from the sales that they generate from the mass market in the existing business models for some banks, such as Barclays this looks financially unattractive. Hence why Barclays is moving to a model of pushing the mass market i.e. those with relatively low levels of investment, to online channels, whilst still providing face-to-face advise to customers who qualify for the Barclays Wealth proposition.

Of course this all depends on how you evaluate the business case. Certainly if the case is evaluated specifically on the cost of sale and the revenue generated as a standalone product sale, then it is difficult to make the case in a post-RDR world (post 2013), to provide in-branch advice to the mass market. However if the overall enhanced customer profitability of cross-selling customers insurance and investment products, many of which are seen as "sticky" products, and the impact on customer retention and customer advocacy is taken into account then the business case for advisors improves.

Another way to improve the business case is to improve the productivity of the advisors. Some of the ways this can be achieved range from simple measures such as more effective appointment management and more effective sharing of advisors across groups of branches to the provision of more effective technology enabled tools to the use of video-conferencing advisors into branches, reducing the time lost due to the advisors travelling to branches. As video-conferencing technology costs reduce and the technology improves (as with Cisco's TelePresence), the resistance of customers to video-conferencing will also drop.

Will other banks follow Barclays' lead and will the mass market be left without in branch advice in a post-RDR world? It is highly unlikely, particularly as banks such as Santander, HSBC, Lloyds Bank (with their 'For the journey' branding they would need to re-think their branding if they did) and RBSG (who have just announced the launch of the sale of two new funds) as they look to re-build trust and provide a differentiated service will follow that direction. RDR however does provide the banks with a significant catalyst to re-think how they provide advice to their customers.