Inside Track: HSBC to get one over on Barclays with capture of Moreno

Mark Kleinman
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LIKE hands-on managers who get rebranded as directors of football, senior advisers at investment banks often find their august titles are merely stepping-stones on the way to a graceful exit.

HSBC’s latest recruit suggests that theory is unfounded at Europe’s largest bank. City sources say it has signed up Glen Moreno, the chairman of Pearson, to join its panel of European grandees.

His appointment brings him into a fold which includes Sir Stuart Rose, former Marks & Spencer chairman, and Sir Dick Olver, who recently stepped down as BAE Systems’ chair.

Moreno’s appeal to HSBC is obvious, as the bank focuses on strengthening key client relationships in the UK and Europe.

A long-standing board member at Fidelity International, former deputy chairman of Lloyds, and one-time chair of UK Financial Investments, his connections are impeccable.

Insiders say he will focus on the bank’s client base in the financial, media and telecoms sectors, the latter two of which he has become increasingly familiar with during an eight-year stint at the helm of the Financial Times’ publisher.

But the real intrigue lies in what his appointment at HSBC implies about another UK bank.

Moreno was a credible candidate for the chairmanship of Barclays in 2012, and could be again as it seeks a successor to Sir David Walker.

His decision to throw his lot in with HSBC effectively rules him out of the Barclays process.

Spencer Stuart, the headhunter handling the search, is said to be struggling to rouse much interest among the conventional City fraternity. Candidates including Lord Davies, the former trade minister, are said to have declined politely.

Walker is not due to step down until the summer of next year. Judging by the initial rejections, it’s a good thing the search has begun so early.

Lazard has been a convenient scapegoat for many people in the escalating political row about Royal Mail’s privatisation.

But yesterday’s news about the scope of an investigation into some of the postal operator’s commercial contracts provides ammunition to those who believe the government’s advisers were right to price its flotation conservatively.

The Ofcom intervention prompted an unusually strongly worded response from Royal Mail, although it had a surprisingly muted effect on the shares.

Last week’s National Audit Office report suggested that the government’s caution last autumn had cost taxpayers dear.

The ongoing complaint about Royal Mail by TNT, the further risk of industrial action and other structural pressures on the core letters business highlight an alternative view about the company’s prospects.

My bet? In a year’s time, its share price will start with a “4”.

It’s about six months since I wrote here about the impasse between City institutions and investment banks over a new rulebook on share lock-up agreements.

Since then, little has changed.

Institutions are seeking a formal deal because of the frequency with which such arrangements are waived with no regard for their interests.

Banks have been reluctant to sign up, though. The latest argument, expressed principally by lawyers at the big US firms, is that they need to retain flexibility to trade shares.

Circumstances, they say, can change rapidly; adhering too rigidly to lock-ups can therefore be contrary to the interests of banks’ clients.

That’s an unsatisfactory answer. The Association of British Insurers might need to extract a better one by going public with its concerns.