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Breaking With Tradition, HSBC Names Outsider Mark Tucker as Its Next Chairman

HSBC Holdings Plc. Chief Executive Officer Stuart Gulliver And AIA Group Chief Executive Officer Mark Tucker Speaks At ForumHSBC Holdings Plc. Chief Executive Officer Stuart Gulliver And AIA Group Chief Executive Officer Mark Tucker Speaks At Forum
Mark Tucker, chief executive officer of AIA Group Ltd., speaks during a forum in Hong Kong, China, on Friday, April 15, 2016. Bloomberg via Getty Images

HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBC-HOLDINGS-PLC), Europe’s biggest bank, tapped an outsider for its top job on Monday, appointing insurance veteran and AIA Group (AAGIY) boss Mark Tucker as chairman to replace Douglas Flint, who said last year he planned to step down in 2017.

A one-time professional footballer who has held several leadership jobs including running Britain’s Prudential (PUK), Tucker will take over as group chairman designate from Sept. 1 and as non-executive group chairman on Oct. 1.

Among the first tasks for Tucker — whose appointment breaks with HSBC’s usual practice of appointing insiders for its top jobs — will be to identify a successor to HSBC Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver, a process expected to conclude in 2018.

Flint and Gulliver’s departure from HSBC after six years will end one of the longest-serving management partnerships at a major global bank.

The pair slashed over 43,000 jobs and sold assets worldwide as they attempted to shrink the bank back to profitability amid a tougher than expected environment for global banks.

With its more than $1.2 trillion in customer deposits, HSBC has suffered more than most lenders from low global interest rates since the 2008 financial crisis that has made investing those deposits profitably difficult.

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Tucker, in choosing the next chief executive, will first have to decide whether to promote one of the lender’s existing senior executives to the CEO’s chair or select a candidate who like himself comes from outside the bank.

Leading internal candidates include HSBC’s Europe chief Antonio Simoes and retail and wealth management head John Flint, while former Goldman Sachs (GS) banker Matthew Westerman is seen by some internally as a candidate despite overseeing a relatively small part of the investment bank.

Among external candidates, Lloyds Banking Group (LYG) Chief Executive Antonio Horta-Osorio is the name most frequently cited by investors.

Whoever the chosen candidate, their main challenge will be to restore revenue growth at HSBC. The lender’s return on equity, a key measure of performance, slumped in 2016 to less than one percent, against 7.6% the year before and far short of a long-term target of 10%.

Aside from low interest rates, obstacles to boosting profits include low demand for loans in the lender’s twin home markets of Britain and Hong Kong, leading it to have a loan-to-deposit ratio of 67%, below most of its global peers.

HSBC also faces slowing economic growth in China, dampening hopes that an Asia pivot strategy announced last year could boost returns for the bank.

While HSBC’s share price has barely risen during the tenure of Flint and Gulliver, the pair can point to successes, including the shrinking of the bank from its pre-2008 crisis era of excessive empire-building growth and the cleaning up of failings in its culture.

In a separate statement, AIA said Ng Keng Hooi, its regional chief executive, will succeed Tucker from Sept. 1.