HSBC headquarters

Where should HSBC locate its headquarters?

Following HSBC’s threats to move it headquarters from London, I sent out a survey to over 1000 email addresses, and 25 responded (a response rate of 2.5%). Half (ie 13) of who responded were HSBC clients.

For many people (particularly those who were not clients of HSBC) the survey was not at all interesting. One sent back an email saying that he would not be completing the survey, and tartly commented on the issue of HSBC headquarters location: “Do you think we care?”

The overwhelming majority of people who completed the survey worked in the “banking, finance, investment” or “professional services” sectors.

The geographical locations of respondents were: Middle East (7); Australia (6); SE Asia (4); China (3); UK/Europe (3); North America (1); Central America (1).

The most recent data on HSBC “contribution to reported profit before tax by geographical region” indicates: Middle East (9.8%); Asia, including Australia (78.3%); Europe (3.2%); North America (7.6%); Latin America (1.15).

Of course, the place of “reported profit” (which include retail, wholesale, FX markets etc) is not an exact indication of the physical presence or number of clients in each region, but the geographical dispersion of survey respondents has some similarity to the profit dispersion.

Only 4 (ie 16%) respondents favored keeping the HSBC headquarters in London, while Shanghai and HK each got 8 (ie 36%) votes. About half (ie 6) of the HSBC clients favored Shanghai, 5 HSBC clients favored HK, and 2 opted for London.

8 of the 13 HSBC clients said a HSBC move to Shanghai would mean that they had a “more positive” or “less negative” attitude to HSBC. 4 of the 12 non-clients said this.

4 of the 13 HSBC clients said a HSBC move to Shanghai would mean that they had a “less positive” or “more negative” attitude to HSBC. 4 of the 12 non-clients said this.

A majority favored the giving of “special concessions” (ie tax or regulatory) to attract HSBC to Shanghai.

The survey also asked respondents to “tell us about any additional views (or ideas) that you have regarding HSBC’s possible move from London (to Shanghai or Hong Kong)”. 12 respondents did so.

HSBC clients:

HSBC client (from SE Asia) who favored Shanghai:   Shanghai would be my first choice and Hong Kong is running pretty close to the 1st position.

HSBC client (from SE Asia) who favored Shanghai:   HSBC should become the first major non-Chinese player in the RMB Shanghai offshore market

HSBC client (from China) who favored Shanghai:      Obviously, Hong Kong will be “easier” but HSBC should bite the bullet and opt for Shanghai. It would have to be “shielded” from a lot of domestic bank regulation, but not given unfair advantage (which could be difficult for the regulators to manage)

HSBC client (Middle East) who favored Shanghai:   They need to move to an emerging economy and then start to have stable policies across various markets rather than entry/exit dilemma and become more committed to the emerging markets.

HSBC client (from the Middle East) who favored Hong Kong:   It makes sense to go back to its historical Asian roots.

HSBC client (from the UK) who favored London:   Reputational risk significant; huge risk of marginalising itself as an organisatione; human capital – major potential negative impact. This is London’s competitive advantage.

Not clients of HSBC:

Non-HSBC client (from Australia) who favored Shanghai:    The imminent implosion of the fiat money systems of the West – led by the US Dollar and the Euro – perhaps precipitated by a so-called Grexit is likely to lead to significant currency revaluations around the globe. This is likely to play out over a number of years, but in the wash-up, China is likely (given its strong manufacturing base) to emerge as the pre-eminent global power at some point during the 2020s.

Non-HSBC client (from Central America) who favored Shanghai:   When there is a change office it will force make leadership of the bank to change their tactics to increase the level responsibility and quality of service. Also, it will give stimulus management office and will provide new opportunities for business. Changing comfort increases the incentive for the development of the banking industry and the bank as a whole.

Non-HSBC (from the USA) client who favored Shanghai:   I think that this would be positive for both global markets and HSBC itself, recognizing where the future (which is upon us) is.

Non-HSBC client (from Australia) who favored Hong Kong:   Logically, the headquarters should be near the centre of operations. The bank should, however, be located in a place where it is subject to a reliable world-class system of regulation and where it is not subject to political pressure or blackmail. That points more to London than to Hong Kong.

Non-HSBC client (from SE Asia) who favored London:   We should go beyond the surface and think about some changes that would come about if HSBC shifts from London to HK or Shanghai: 1) the London government will no longer bail HSBC out in case HSBC goes bankrupt. It will then rely on the government of HK or China, which are less likely to bail HSBC out. 2) the shareholder composition of HSBC will likely change. China might have rules against foreign ownership. 3) the rules and regulations that HSBC will have to follow will change from that in the first world to that in the third world, for e.g. Basel requirements, cash reserve ratio, etc. In particular HSBC might have to work more with other China banks as counterparty. The rules for dealing with client privacy (tax evasion) and money laundering will be different.

Non-HSBC client (from Australia) who favored Edinburgh:    If HSBC moved its HQ to Shanghai, it would help put pressure on Shanghai/Chinese regulators to reach global standards more quickly. That would be a good thing.

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