HSBC chief executive endorses permanent hybrid work

The lender also expects its business travel budget to be reduced by half

An undated handout picture received in London from HSBC Holdings on March 17, 2020 shows Noel Quinn posing for a portrait.

 Asia-focused banking giant HSBC appointed Tuesday, March 17, as chief executive Noel Quinn, who has been serving in the job on an interim basis and has already launched a broad restructuring plan for the troubled bank.  - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HSBC Holdings " - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
 / AFP / HSBC Holdings / Roger Harris / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HSBC Holdings " - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

HSBC isn’t about to throw away its pandemic-era ways of working.

The bank, which is in the midst of a historic pivot and cost-cutting programme, predicts it will be operating in a profoundly different way after the virus outbreak ebbs, with as many as 70 per cent of its staff backing a hybrid working model and with its business travel budget cut in half.

“My own view on the return to office is it would be a waste if we didn’t learn from the last 18 months,” chief executive Noel Quinn said in a Bloomberg Front Row interview.

The bank has had more than 90 per cent of its staff working from home during the outbreak, managing to deliver on both cost cuts and a turnaround in key businesses.

Quote
I’m really glad to be back in the office, seeing colleagues and having conversations in the corridor or in getting stuff done on the spur of the moment, rather than having to book a VC call or a telephone call
Noel Quinn, chief executive, HSBC

HSBC expects to shrink its property footprint by 40 per cent and doesn’t plan to renew many of its city centre leases over the next few years. The lender is shifting to a policy of about two employees per desk, excluding branches, and has even scrapped the executive floor at its Canary Wharf headquarters in London.

While Mr Quinn said he doesn’t want to be “overly prescriptive”, his expectations are now that staff who are able to would be allowed to work about three days of the week in the office. But he’s also aware of the benefits of office culture.

“I don’t want to lose that DNA and that teamwork,” he said. “I’m really glad to be back in the office, seeing colleagues and having conversations in the corridor or in getting stuff done on the spur of the moment, rather than having to book a VC call or a telephone call.”

Lenders such as Citigroup have also signalled a permanent shift in work-from-home rules, while Goldman Sachs Group and Morgan Stanley’s top executives have called for almost a full return, albeit with some flexibility.

At the same time, the drawn-out calamity of the pandemic has also caused the lender to look hard at business travel. The firm now expects its travel budget to be reduced by 50 per cent.

“We’ve learned to live and operate in a very different way,” he said.

These lessons have been learned across the global business landscape. A Bloomberg survey of 45 large businesses in the US, Europe and Asia showed that 84 per cent plan to spend less on travel post-pandemic. A majority of those cutting travel budgets see reductions of between 20 per cent and 40 per cent, with about two in three slashing both internal and external in-person meetings.

Still, the chief executive is looking forward to once again being able to visit China, the market where HSBC is now spending billions of dollars as part of a pivot to Asia.

Updated: September 3rd 2021, 6:13 AM