HSBC Eyes China Insurance Partner, Asia Jobs

Top European lender HSBC Holdings, which is building up its global insurance business, may strike a distribution partnership in fast-growing China in 2008, its Asia chief said on Wednesday.

Sandy Flockhart also said HSBC aims to increase staffing in the region by 10 percent over the next year, although tight labour markets pose a challenge, and added a U.S. economic slowdown would trim regional growth in the new year.

The firm's insurance venture in China is in its early stages, Flockhart noted, and said Bank of Communications, in which HSBC owns 19 percent, could be one of its distribution partners. China's Ping An Insurance, in which HSBC also holds a stake, would be a less likely distribution partner given product overlap.

"It's really a question of finding a strategy on distribution, so we'll either do that through sales force or through physical distribution channels, and obviously for that we would look to work with other parties. Potentially BoCom (Bank of Communications) could be one of them," he said.

HSBC employs about 60,000 people in Asia and hopes to increase that by more than 10 percent over the next year, although tight employment markets mean the bank is behind target on staffing -- a constraint that could eat into business growth, Flockhart said.

"Certainly in the Hong Kong market, where there's tight labour supplies, and in other markets, actually meeting the required headcount levels is going to be difficult," he said.