HSBC needs to re-learn its ABCs, or better still, its KYCs

 
Mark Kleinman
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The Swiss tax scandal has raised fresh questions about the group’s manageability (Source: Getty)

PLAC, CRD-4, the FCA and the PRA: but for HSBC, the most important acronym in the banking lexicon right now is KYC (Know Your Customer).

Since inheriting the reins of Europe’s largest bank four years ago, Stuart Gulliver has rarely been out of his firefighter’s overalls. On many of those occasions it was the bank’s lack of familiarity with its customers (and in many cases its customers’ customers) that was to blame.
Despite hiring an army of compliance staff and paying billions of pounds in fines for breaching money laundering regulations and manipulating markets, the fires still burn. Last week’s re-emergence of the Swiss tax-dodging scandal at HSBC’s private bank has raised fresh questions about the group’s manageability.
Yet HSBC also continues to face criticism for unilateral decisions to exit some overseas markets and close the accounts of customers who – in the words of the bank – “fall outside our risk appetite”. Some of the communications with affected customers have been handled in a brusque manner, but with a sword of Damocles hanging over it, HSBC’s retrenchment is motivated by understandable sentiment.
Mr Gulliver’s track record since 2011 bears the fingerprints of a pragmatist. In the long run, I suspect HSBC’s shareholders will thank him for that.

WORKING A FAST CONN

With a surname like Conn, the new boss of Britain’s biggest energy supplier provides a rare and precious gift to headline-writers.
Yet while journalists wait with relish for the first British Gas mis-selling mishap of Mr Conn’s tenure, the new Centrica boss will have an opportunity today to reset investors’ expectations about the wider business.
He will have been cheered to some degree by yesterday’s announcement from competition authorities that they so far see little basis for breaking up the big integrated energy companies.
Mr Conn also takes over a company in far better shape than the one handed to his predecessor, Sam Laidlaw, in 2006.
That will not make it straightforward, though, in an environment of falling oil prices and benign weather.
Sources indicate that Mr Conn will use today’s results to rebase Centrica’s dividend policy and signal upstream job cuts at its North Sea operations.
That would be fast work for someone in post for just 50 days.

RBS MAY BE LEFT WITH THE ABC CANDIDATE

At next week’s press conference to mark Royal Bank of Scotland’s annual results, it would be understandable if Sir Philip Hampton chooses to sit as close to the exit as possible.
Six years of pay-related political and public flagellation is enough for anyone; and Sir Philip has endured each one with enough good humour for many to start questioning his sanity.
Yet there is still no white smoke from RBS’s Edinburgh headquarters to signal the identification of his predecessor.
People involved in the process appear relaxed about the time the process is taking. Yet it would be a blind decision to accept the job without knowing either the identity of the next government or the final rules on bank ring-fencing that will take hold during the tenure of Sir Philip’s successor.
Those twin uncertainties are undoubtedly behind the decisions of some notable individuals – among them Alison Carnwath and Sir Gerry Grimstone – to turn down the role.
They also explain why speculation has begun to settle firmly on Sir Sandy Crombie, the senior independent director, being installed as RBS’s next chairman. But if that’s the case, it won’t be universally well-received. Some RBS executives refer to that scenario in the context of “campaigning for ABC”: Anyone But Crombie.

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