“145 years after we were founded, Hong Kong and the rest of Asia remain at the heart of HSBC’s strength and identity and our commitment to the region
Douglas Flint Group Chairman
When I took on the role of Chairman less than 90 days ago, I was acutely aware of the challenges facing our industry. I was conscious too of the need to demonstrate to all of our stakeholders that HSBC understands the responsibilities that accompany the systemic significance which continued success has built for HSBC in many of the markets in which we operate, not least those in Asia, given their historical significance to the Group. 145 years after we were founded, Hong Kong and the rest of Asia remain at the heart of HSBC’s strength and identity and our commitment to the region is unwavering.
I fully acknowledge that our scale, the trust that our depositors place in us and our relevance to our personal and corporate clients – for their financing, banking, investment and risk management needs – all depend upon our maintaining our reputation and our integrity.
I also understand how important it is for you, our shareholders, that HSBC builds sustainable long-term value that is reflected through the share price and rebuilds, as quickly as competing regulatory demands allow, the dividend that was reduced during the financial crisis.
I firmly believe that HSBC has the people, the financial strength and the organisational structure best able to deliver all of the above and it is a privilege to have the opportunity to serve as Group Chairman as we enter a fresh chapter in our history.
“Everything we do is governed by the imperative of upholding HSBC’s corporate reputation and character at the highest level and adding further strength to our brand…”
Before I go any further, I want to pay tribute to both Stephen Green and Michael Geoghegan, who stepped down at the end of last year from their roles as Group Chairman and Group Chief Executive after, respectively, 28 and 37 years’ service to HSBC. It fell to them to be at the helm as HSBC navigated its way through the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. Mike led from the front in addressing the problems in our consumer finance subsidiary in the United States and in reshaping HSBC’s organisational structure and operational practices in order to better and more efficiently serve an increasingly interconnected world. Stephen’s personal reputation for integrity and probity stood out and distinguished HSBC during a period of intense disaffection with the banking industry. For their contribution over many years we owe them a deep debt of gratitude and wish them both well.
- Our performance
- A new
- The role of
banks in society
The ‘Group Chief Executive’s Business Review’ sets out clearly how HSBC delivered a much improved balance of profits in 2010. It is reassuring to see our Personal Financial Services businesses returning to profitability in aggregate and Commercial Banking growing significantly, largely in emerging markets. These achievements augmented another year of strong performance in Global Banking and Markets.
Earnings per share improved strongly, rising by 115 per cent to reach US$0.73 per share.
The Group’s capital position also strengthened with the core tier 1 ratio, the ratio most favoured by regulators as it comprises equity capital after regulatory adjustments and deductions, increasing from 9.4 per cent to 10.5 per cent, largely due to profit retention throughout the year.
As a consequence of this strong capital generation, together with greater clarity on the direction of regulatory reform of capital requirements and an improving economic backdrop in the developed world – particularly in the United States – the Board has approved increases in both the final dividend payment in respect of 2010 and the planned quarterly dividends for 2011. The final dividend for 2010, payable on 5 May 2011 to shareholders on the register on 17 March 2011, will be 12 cents per ordinary share, up from 10 cents at the same point last year. For the remainder of 2011, we plan to pay quarterly dividends of nine cents for each of the first three quarters compared with eight cents in respect of the equivalent quarters of 2010.
We enter 2011 with a new leadership team, but only in the sense of changed roles. Everyone has worked together over many years and there is immense experience to draw on both from within HSBC and from earlier careers at peer organisations. Stuart Gulliver is leading the management team as Group Chief Executive. His clear objective is to deliver sustainable long-term value for shareholders consistently in a manner that maintains the confidence of all other key stakeholders in our businesses including depositors, counterparties, long-term creditors, customers, employees, regulators and governments. His review gives an insight into his immediate priorities.
Everything we do is governed by the imperative of upholding HSBC’s corporate reputation and character at the highest level and adding further strength to our brand; we deeply regret that a number of weaknesses in regulatory compliance were highlighted in 2010 and we are resolved to remedy these and reinforce the high standards we demand of ourselves.
For my part, I shall be focusing on engaging at the highest level in the regulatory reform debates that will, in large part, shape our future. I shall also lead the Board in the stewardship and review of performance of our financial and human resources.
In the interest of full transparency, we have today published on our website the respective roles and responsibilities of the Group Chairman, the Deputy Chairman and Senior Independent Director and the Group Chief Executive.
I have already paid tribute to the contributions of Stephen Green and Michael Geoghegan. Vincent Cheng has indicated that he will step down at the next AGM and, on behalf of the Board, I want to thank him for his immense contribution in many roles over 33 years. Vincent will retain an association with the Group by taking on an advisory role to the Group Chief Executive on regional matters. Laura Cha will join the Board on 1 March; Laura has been Deputy Chair of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited for four years and brings a wealth of experience of China; fuller details of her background and experience are set out in Our Board section.
There was much progress made during 2010 on the regulatory reform agenda. Although there is still a great deal to do, the shape of capital requirements was broadly clarified and an implementation timetable stretching out to 2019 was agreed to allow time for the industry to adjust progressively. A minimum common equity tier 1 ratio of 7 per cent, including a capital conservation buffer, has been agreed. HSBC already meets this threshold requirement. The ‘Group Chief Executive’s Business Review’ addresses how these revised requirements will impact our targeted return on equity.
During 2011, the debate will be dominated by consideration of the calibration of minimum liquidity standards. Although it is clear that liquidity and funding weaknesses were key elements contributing to the crisis, HSBC agrees with the industry consensus that the revised requirements in these areas are overly conservative and could lead to unnecessary deleveraging at a time of fragile economic recovery in much of the developed world. It will be a near impossibility for the industry to expand business lending at the same time as increasing the amount of deposits deployed in government bonds while, for many banks but not HSBC, reducing dependency on central bank liquidity support arrangements. It is to be hoped that the observation period, which starts this year and precedes the formal introduction of the new requirements, will inform a recalibration of these minimum liquidity standards.
A second debate of importance to HSBC’s shareholders in 2011 will concern the designation of ‘Systemically Important Financial Institutions’ (SIFIs). Consideration is being given in the regulatory community to mandating higher capital requirements, together with more intense supervision, for institutions classified as SIFIs. We agree with heightened supervision but it is not clear that the reduced shareholder returns that would follow the imposition of incremental capital would be compensated for by improved stability. Classification as a SIFI with a requirement to hold incremental capital would, however, probably lead others to favour SIFIs as counterparties, and may therefore have the unintended consequence of further concentrating the industry.
HSBC’s position is that systemic importance should not be determined by size alone. It is clear, however, that, on almost any basis, HSBC would be classified as systemically important. For this reason we are engaging fully in the debate around the consequences of designation as a SIFI. In particular, we draw attention to the benefits of our corporate organisation through separate subsidiaries in mitigation against the imposition of incremental capital for SIFIs based on size alone.
In October 2010, the UK government confirmed its intention to raise the sum of £2.5 billion (US$3.9 billion) through a levy on bank balance sheets, and recently announced it will accelerate the full impact of this levy to 2011. We take no issue with the right of the UK government to raise a levy on the banking industry, particularly when having had to risk taxpayers’ money to rescue a number of important UK institutions. However, as the proposed levy is to be applied to the consolidated balance sheet, it applies beyond the legal boundary of the domestic institution to include overseas operations conducted through separately capitalised subsidiaries. This therefore constitutes an additional cost of basing a growing multinational banking group in the UK.
We intend to clarify in each set of results going forward the impact of the levy, split between UK and overseas operations, and Stuart Gulliver covers this in more detail in his review. We regard the levy, which is not tax deductible, as akin to a distribution of profits. For this reason, we intend to add to future shareholder dividends that would otherwise be paid, any amount saved in the event that the levy is restructured or relieved in due course.
“Our duty to shareholders is to build sustainable value in the economic and competitive environment in which we operate and our principal resource for achieving this is
The recent crisis has caused a proper introspection as to the role that banks play in society and at HSBC we welcome this. Banking is not simply about money. It is about helping individuals and organisations within society to meet personal and corporate objectives by facilitating access to financial capital and protecting value for those who make capital available. Payment mechanisms, the provision of long-term credit, trade finance, hedging and other risk management products, deposit, investment and retirement services are but a few of the activities through which banking groups contribute to today’s financial system. Society cannot function without an effective financial system that delivers value to those it serves at an intermediation cost that is proportionate to the value created. Somehow, many participants and not just banks, lost sight of this basic principle in the run-up to the recent financial crisis and the consequences for all have, inevitably, been far reaching. There is no doubt that the scale of regulatory reform will bring many challenges, but it will also open new opportunities.
At HSBC, we shall not forget what happened to precipitate the scale of reform now underway. Although the financial turmoil arising from the events of 2007-2008 has largely moderated, in large part as a result of co-ordinated government action and support to the financial system, we enter 2011 with humility, ready to apply right across HSBC all of the lessons learned, notwithstanding that HSBC itself neither sought nor received support from any government.
Society has a right to ask if banks ‘get it’. At HSBC, we do – and we are focused on embedding the necessary changes in our business model for long-term sustainable value creation. But we also do not forget that value creation depends upon HSBC recruiting, training and retaining the right talent in order to manage the risks we accept through intermediating customer flows; design solutions to address complex financial problems; build enduring relationships with core customers; build confidence in the Group’s financial strength; and create the strategic options that offer the next generation fresh opportunities to continue building sustainable value.
In this globalised world, there is intense competition for the best people and, given our long history within and connections into the faster-growing developing markets, our best people are highly marketable. It would be irresponsible to allow our comparative advantages to wither by ignoring the market forces that exist around compensation, even though we understand how sensitive this subject is. Reform in this area can only be achieved if there is concerted international agreement on limiting the quantum of pay as well as harmonising pay structures but there appears to be no appetite to take the initiative on this. Our duty to shareholders is to build sustainable value in the economic and competitive environment in which we operate and our principal resource for achieving this is human talent. Under the governance of the Board, we will continue to operate and apply remuneration policies and practices that take full recognition of best practice and are aligned with the long-term interests of shareholders.
Finally, I want to pay tribute to my 307,000 colleagues. So many of HSBC’s people have exemplified commitment and endeavour again in 2010, helping our customers and clients to meet their financial objectives while taking on the additional burden of preparing for regulatory change. This has been done against a backdrop of continuing broad-based fiscal support to many economies, with public opinion consistently and highly critical of our industry. As I look forward, it is the combination of the capabilities of HSBC’s people, their determination to do the right thing for our customers and their deep sense of responsibility to the communities they serve that makes me confident that HSBC will play a leading role in rebuilding the trust that our industry has lost and, by doing so, will build sustainable value for you, our shareholders.
28 February 2011