When Peter Wong introduced his retirement this week after a decade as HSBC’s chief govt for Asia, he advised employees that turning disaster into alternative was “embedded” within the financial institution’s DNA.
HSBC has lurched by means of a sequence of crises in Europe, the US and South America prior to now 10 years — whereas Wong has quietly eased a path for Europe’s largest lender into Hong Kong’s wealthiest circles and Beijing’s corridors of energy.
Across the time he grew to become Asia CEO, $8 in each $10 of the financial institution’s income have been generated within the area however half its mortgage e-book and greater than two-thirds of its capital have been deployed in Europe and the US.
Now, development in China and Hong Kong has develop into the core of its international technique and greater than $100bn of capital has been reallocated to the area. HSBC’s US enterprise and a part of its European operations have been wound down or bought off.
Wong’s hyperlinks to Hong Kong’s enterprise elite and China’s Communist social gathering have been essential. Allies say the veteran Hong Kong banker has develop into “indispensable” to HSBC — he’ll keep in a brand new position because the financial institution’s chair in Hong Kong, a place historically occupied by the worldwide CEO.
But the 69-year-old was thrust right into a disaster of his personal final 12 months when he compromised greater than a century of cautious political neutrality at HSBC by signing a petition in favour of Beijing’s robust nationwide safety legislation in Hong Kong. That received plaudits in Beijing however catapulted Wong’s identify on to the radars of irate politicians in Westminster and Washington.
“It prompted severely difficulties for Noel Quinn and Mark Tucker,” stated one former HSBC board member, referring to the financial institution’s chief govt and chair respectively. “The emphasis has all been on Peter’s political connections since he signed the NSL petition however that does his 40-year profession as an especially good banker a disservice.”
HSBC’s fortunes have develop into intertwined with China. Wong’s relationship with the Communist social gathering — he sits on its core political advisory physique — has been an enormous profit to the financial institution. He smoothed over tensions with Beijing after HSBC gave paperwork to US prosecutors investigating Chinese language tech group Huawei over alleged sanctions breaches.
“The Chinese language authorities considers him a good friend and a trusted particular person,” stated Sir David Li, govt chair of Financial institution of East Asia and probably the most senior banker in Hong Kong. Jeffrey Lam, a member of Hong Kong’s legislative council, stated: “HSBC is between two hotplates: the mainland and the US. Peter has dealt with it tremendously — coping with that battle takes talent.”
Wong, who can be a trusted good friend and banker to Hong Kong tycoons reminiscent of Sir Li Ka-shing, Henry Cheng and Thomas Kwok, was poached from Normal Chartered in 2005 when HSBC realised it had nearly no senior executives from Hong Kong or China. He was already established in native and mainland Chinese language enterprise and political circles as chair of the territory’s influential Affiliation of Banks.
Highly effective pals deeply ensconced in Hong Kong politics say he’s “diplomatic” and “no nonsense”.
“He talks little or no however when he does he means what he says,” stated BEA’s Li. Peter Ma, chair of Ping An, the Chinese language insurer that’s HSBC’s largest shareholder, described Wong because the “elder statesman” of worldwide banking in Asia.
As chair of Hong Kong’s unique financial institution, Wong will preserve his standing amongst Hong Kong’s taipans — the town’s most revered businessmen. Though he will likely be changed as Asia head by two extra junior colleagues, he’ll maintain residing in Taipan Home, HSBC’s $73m residence for its senior native govt on the town’s unique Peak.
Extra importantly, he’ll play a vital position in shaping the territory’s future as a world monetary centre. Hong Kong has been compelled to defend its repute as a world finance hub because the eruption in 2019 of violent pro-democracy protests and the introduction final 12 months of the nationwide safety legislation.
Wong spends hours discussing points which can be of “vital curiosity to our future as a world monetary centre,” stated Joseph Yam, Hong Kong’s first central banker who now sits on the legislative committee.
“Folks accuse [Hong Kong] of changing into increasingly like China,” he added. “That’s foolish — Peter is ready to see that. He doesn’t have the sort of problematic tradition we see on Wall Road, the place monetary establishments have develop into self-serving relatively than serving the financial system.”
There isn’t any retirement age at HSBC so the timing of Wong’s departure has prompted questions. One insider linked it to the choice to relocate 4 international enterprise heads from London to Hong Kong later this 12 months.
“Peter has traditionally had a number of independence, now there will likely be a lot of folks on the thirty fourth flooring of 1 Queen’s Street Central [HSBC’s historic local headquarters] bumping into him, attempting to connect themselves to Hong Kong’s very sturdy P&L,” the particular person stated.
“Standing and face depend for tonnes in Hong Kong,” stated one former HSBC govt. “So being given the title of chair of Hong Kong’s unique financial institution is tremendous candy.”
Asserting Wong’s retirement, Quinn stated his time working with Wong “helped form my perception that HSBC has a brilliant future as a world financial institution that may bridge east and west”.
Because the mediator between HSBC, mainland China, Hong Kong and the remainder of the world — together with typically unstable rising markets — Wong is used to navigating conflicts. As mainland China grows in significance for HSBC, it’s seemingly there will likely be extra geopolitical fires to place out.
“We have now been a visitor in different folks’s nations for the financial institution’s complete life,” stated one former HSBC boss. “It isn’t shocking crises occur typically.”