HSBC reportedly plans to cut jobs after CEO John Flint's departure

Key Points
  • Europe's largest bank by assets, HSBC, is planning to cut thousands of jobs after the surprise announcement of Chief Executive Officer John Flint's departure, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Flint's exit comes 18 months after he took over as CEO.
  • HSBC Chairman Mark Tucker said the bank will consider both internal and external candidates for the CEO job.
John Flint, chief executive officer of HSBC Holdings, at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 24, 2019.
Jason Alden | Bloomberg | Getty Images

HSBC, Europe's largest bank by assets, is planning to cut thousands of jobs after the surprise announcement of Chief Executive Officer John Flint's departure, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.

The job cuts will be targeted at senior roles and is expected shave up to 4% of the bank's wage costs, HSBC Group Chief Financial Officer Ewen Stevenson told the Journal in an interview. The cuts would come from a combination of layoffs and attrition.

"Up to 2% of the bank's 237,685 employees could lose their jobs," the Journal reported on Monday, after HSBC said Flint will step down as CEO on Monday, after 18 months on the job.

In a statement, HSBC Chairman Mark Tucker said of Flint's exit: "In the increasingly complex and challenging global environment in which the Bank operates, the Board believes a change is needed to meet the challenges that we face and to capture the very significant opportunities before us."

Reuters, citing a person familiar with the matter, reported differences between Flint and Tucker over the pace and results of executing HSBC's strategy. Those differences stemmed from Flint's softer approach to cutting costs and setting revenue targets for senior managers to boost profit growth, according to the Reuters report.

During a conference call with investors and analysts on Monday, Tucker reiterated that there was "no disagreement on strategy."

"I think the element where we have work to do is how we go about realizing those priorities," he added.

Another sticking point was related to turning around the bank's U.S. business, reported Reuters.

In the conference call with investors and analysts, Stevenson said the turnaround in the bank's U.S. business is "not on track." He added the lender is not expected to achieve its target of 6% return on tangible equity by 2020 given the challenging environment.

Flint's replacement

HSBC said it has appointed Noel Quinn, the bank's global commercial banking unit head, as interim CEO until Flint's successor is found.

Tucker said the bank has no fixed timeline to appoint a new CEO, but the search could take six to 12 months. The bank will consider both internal and external candidates, he added.

Flint, who took over as CEO in February 2018, started his career at HSBC in 1989 and worked across most of the bank's business units. He set out plans to invest $15 billion to $17 billion over three years in areas including technology and China.

His surprise departure will leave investors wondering whether there will be any change in the bank's strategy, said Joshua Crabb, senior portfolio manager at asset management firm Robeco.

"When you get a change of this magnitude, people are going to be looking for what are the reasons, what should be expected if there's any change in strategy," Crabb told CNBC's "Squawk Box" before Tucker's conference call with investors and analysts.

HSBC earnings

The bank released its latest earnings report along with the announcement of Flint stepping down. The lender said profit before tax rose 15.8% year-on-year to $12.4 billion in the first six months of 2019, while revenue for the same period was 7.6% higher than the year before at $29.3 billion.

Other financial metrics that analysts and investors were watching:

  • Net interest margin, a measure of lending profitability, was 1.61% — lower than the 1.66% in June 2018.
  • Earnings per share was $0.42, an increase from $0.36 a year ago.

HSBC declared a share buyback of $1 billion, defying some analysts' expectations it might pause its strategy of returning extra capital to investors.

Ronald Wan, non-executive chairman of financial services firm Partners Financials Holdings, said HSBC's latest set of results was "really good." Still, investors should be cautious before buying the stock, he said.

"We need to watch what will be happening in Hong Kong and what will be happening in Britain with Brexit (which) will have an impact on the bank's corporate earnings in the second half of this year," Wan told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Monday.

HSBC is headquartered in London but derives much of its revenue in Asia, particularly in Greater China.

— Reuters contributed to this report.