HSBC CEO Noel Quinn unexpectedly steps down from his role

His departure from Europe's largest bank comes as it navigates the deterioration of US-China ties as it pushes to expand in Asia

Noel Quinn announced his retirement after serving for nearly five years as the chief executive of HSBC. PA Wire
Powered by automated translation

HSBC Holdings chief executive Noel Quinn is unexpectedly stepping down after nearly five years in the job, triggering a search for a replacement at Europe’s largest bank.

The board has begun a formal process to find a successor, and will consider internal and external candidates, according to a statement on Tuesday.

Mr Quinn will stay on during this process to ensure a smooth transition, it said.

During his tenure, Mr Quinn led a series of strategic reviews that culminated in a plan to boost the bank’s investment in its Asian business, while cutting back in developed western markets such as the US and France.

His departure comes as HSBC navigates the rapid deterioration of US-China ties, undermining the company’s years-long push to expand in Asia.

“Doing this job, you have to give 100 per cent if not 120 per cent of your energy, your mindset your time to the role,” Mr Quinn said on the conference call with journalists.

“You can keep doing that, but that doesn’t necessarily achieve the balance in life that I wanted.”

During Mr Quinn’s tenure, HSBC’s return on tangible equity has soared and profits touched a record last year.

The company’s stock has surged 35 per cent since he took over at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, compared with the 53 per cent advance of the FTSE All-Share Index.

The London-headquartered bank on Tuesday also posted a 1.8 per cent drop in pre-tax profit to $12.65 billion for the first quarter, which topped the $12.6 billion average consensus estimate compiled by the company. The lender also announced a new $3 billion buyback.

This will be the third chief executive search under chairman Mark Tucker, who took over at HSBC in October 2017.

The first came when he appointed Mr Quinn’s predecessor John Flint as chief executive in 2018. Eighteen months later Mr Tucker ousted the HSBC veteran amid disagreements over strategy, and handed the reins to Mr Quinn.

In 2022, Mr Quinn said the promotion of former markets boss Georges Elhedery to chief financial officer was part of the bank’s long-term succession planning.

At the time, he said his “ambition is to make sure there are no less than three and ideally four to five potential succession options that the board could consider within HSBC”.

Mr Quinn began his banking career at British lender Midland Bank in 1987, which HSBC bought in 1992. He spent the majority of his career at HSBC working for the commercial banking unit.

He began thinking seriously about leaving the bank over Christmas and informed Mr Tucker of his intention to retire in recent weeks.

Mr Tucker is aiming to wrap up the chief executive search by the second half of the year.

Mr Quinn was granted “good leaver” status, meaning he is still entitled to his deferred awards and they will continue to vest.

That status is conditional on him not taking up a role with a defined list of competitors following his retirement, HSBC said in its statement.

“We never felt he looked completely comfortable in the role and suspect that Covid was a particularly brutal period running an international business like HSBC,” Perlie Mong, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, said in a note to clients.

Still, she said, his departure is “surprising after only four years in the role, particularly as it took seven months as ‘interim’ to actually get the job”.

Updated: April 30, 2024, 8:31 AM