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Surprise retirement of HSBC chief executive Noel Quinn

The last 5 years have not been easy for Noel Quinn, head of the British banking giant HSBC.

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Surprise retirement of HSBC chief executive Noel Quinn

The last 5 years have not been easy for Noel Quinn, head of the British banking giant HSBC. The bank announced on Tuesday the surprise departure of its general director, who said he wanted to take a breather after “five intense years” at his head, and without the person who will take over from him being known yet. “We all know how difficult the world has been over the last five years,” explained the manager, who notably led the bank during the Covid-19 pandemic and decided on a suspension of the dividend which had so upset certain shareholders in Hong Kong. “I have held intense management positions since I took charge of the British commercial bank in October 2008. I am therefore personally ready for a change,” added Noel Quinn, who notably wants to devote himself more to his family.

The 62-year-old manager explained that he wanted a less demanding professional activity after a period of rest, without giving further details. He will remain at the helm of the leading British bank until the arrival of his successor. “We have already launched a process to find our next general manager, (which) will consider both internal and external candidates,” announced the chairman of the board of directors, Mark Tucker, at a press conference. The bank hopes to appoint its next boss “during the second half of this year,” he said.

The departure of Noel Quinn, after 37 years of career at HSBC, is not linked to “a particular event or incident”, assured the departing manager. The last 12 months have also “been extremely positive in terms of the bank’s financial performance,” he said. The bank stressed on Tuesday that it had recorded since the arrival at its head of Noel Quinn in 2020, “record profits and the highest returns in more than ten years”. She highlighted the “leading position in sustainable development” acquired by the group.

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In recent years, HSBC has mainly simplified its structure and refocused on Asia, where the banking group generates two thirds of its turnover. This development was pushed in particular by its main shareholder, the Chinese insurer Ping An, which campaigned (without success) for a radical solution: the splitting of activities in Asia in order to obtain better returns. This proposal highlighted HSBC's precarious position in the face of tensions between the United States and China, with some observers wondering if the bank could continue to straddle East and West.

HSBC also announced on Tuesday a drop of 1.4% in its net profit in the first quarter, to 10.2 billion dollars (9.51 billion euros), despite a gain of 4.8 billion dollars (4 .48 billion euros) after finalizing the sale of its activities in Canada. The result was penalized by a depreciation of $1.1 billion resulting from the planned sale of its activities in Argentina, as well as by a negative comparison effect linked in particular to the sale (which took place on January 1) of its banking network. retail in France to the company My Money Group (MMG). But after a disappointing result in the fourth quarter of 2023 linked to the large depreciation of a stake in a Chinese bank, the figures for the first quarter of 2024 are in fact better than expected.

The news of Noel Quinn's departure "was a surprise" and comes as the bank "is in the midst of an overhaul and (his boss) is far from having completed his mission of cost control," said Matt Britzman, analyst. of Hargreaves Lansdown. In addition to Covid or the discontent of certain shareholders, the boss also had to manage “geopolitical tensions between the United States and China” or “political unrest in Hong Kong”, he recalled.

But “the market reaction suggests that the strong position he leaves behind is sufficient to ease any uncertainty” about the succession, and “the absence of significant write-downs linked to Chinese commercial real estate” in the first quarter is also welcome. , according to this analyst. On the London Stock Exchange, HSBC shares gained 3.32% to 690.30 pence around 08:30 GMT. The stock was also boosted by the announcement of the payment of dividends and a share buyback of up to $3 billion.

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