When Peter Wong announced his retirement this week after a decade as HSBC’s CEO in Asia, he told staff that turning the crisis into opportunity was “embedded” in the bank’s DNA.
HSBC has swung through a Crisis series In Europe, the United States and South America in the past ten years – while Wong quietly paved the way for Europe’s largest lender into Hong Kong’s richest circles and the corridors of power in Beijing.
By the time he became CEO of Asia, $8 of every $10 of the bank’s earnings were generated in the region, but half of its loan book and more than two-thirds of its capital was posted in Europe and the United States.
Now, growth in China and Hong Kong has become the core of its global strategy, and more than $100 billion of capital has been reallocated to the region. HSBC’s US business and part of its European operations have been terminated or sold.
Wong’s links to Hong Kong’s business elite and the Chinese Communist Party were crucial. Allies say the veteran Hong Kong banker has become “indispensable” to HSBC – he will remain in a new position as head of the Hong Kong bank, a position traditionally held by the global chief executive.
However, the 69-year-old plunged into a crisis of his own last year when he was jeopardized by more than a century of strict political neutrality at HSBC by Signing a petition In favor of Beijing’s strict national security law in Hong Kong. It won plaudits in Beijing, but it threw Wong’s name onto the radars of angry politicians in Westminster and Washington.
“It has caused serious difficulties for Noel Quinn and Mark Tucker,” said one former HSBC board member, referring to the bank’s chief executive and president, respectively. “The focus has been all on Peter’s political relationships since he signed the NSL petition, but that’s detrimental to his 40-year career as a very good banker.”
HSBC’s fortunes have become entangled with China. Wong’s relationship with the Communist Party – a member of the core policy advisory body – has been of great benefit to the Bank. He eased tensions with Beijing after HSBC provided documents to US prosecutors investigating Chinese technology group Huawei over alleged sanctions violations.
“He is seen by the Chinese government as a friend and a reliable person,” said Sir David Lee, chief executive of Bank of East Asia and Hong Kong’s largest banker. Jeffrey Lam, a member of Hong Kong’s legislature, said: “HSBC is sandwiched between two regions: the mainland and the United States. Peter has handled it tremendously – dealing with this conflict takes skill.”
Wong, who is also a trusted friend and banker to Hong Kong business tycoons such as Sir Li Ka-shing, Henry Cheng and Thomas Kwok, was robbed from Standard Chartered in 2005 when HSBC realized there were almost no senior executives from Hong Kong or China. He has already been established in major domestic and Chinese business and politics circles as president of the Territory’s influential Association of Banks.
Powerful friends deeply immersed in Hong Kong politics say it is “diplomatic” and “meaningless”.
“He talks quite a bit but when he does, he means what he says,” BEA told me. Peter Ma, president of Ping An, the Chinese insurance company and largest shareholder in HSBC, described Wong as the “big statesman” of international banking in Asia.
As head of the original Hong Kong Bank, Wong will maintain his position among the Bank of Hong Kong Taipan – The most respected businessmen in town. Although he will be replaced at the head of Asia Two fellow juniorsHe will continue to live in Taipan House, HSBC’s $73 million headquarters for top local executives at the city’s exclusive summit.
More importantly, it will play a crucial role in shaping the territory’s future as an international financial centre. Hong Kong has had to defend its reputation as a global financial center since violent pro-democracy protests erupted in 2019 and the introduction of a national security law last year.
Joseph Yam, Hong Kong’s first central bank and now a member of the legislative committee, said Wong spends hours discussing issues “of critical importance to our future as an international financial centre”.
“People are accusing [Hong Kong] becoming more and more like China.” “This is ridiculous – Peter is able to see that. It doesn’t have the kind of problematic culture we see on Wall Street, where financial institutions have become self-serving rather than the economy.”
There is no retirement age at HSBC, so the timing of Wong’s departure has raised questions. An insider linked him to the decision to move Four global business leaders From London to Hong Kong later this year.
“Peter has historically had a lot of independence, and now there will be a lot of people on the 34th floor of 1 Queen’s Road Central [HSBC’s historic local headquarters] They bump into it and try to tie themselves up with very strong profits and losses in Hong Kong.”
“The countdown and face-to-ton situation in Hong Kong,” said a former HSBC executive. “So to have the title of head of the original Hong Kong Bank is very cool.”
Announcing Wong’s retirement, Quinn said his time with Wong “helped shape my belief that HSBC has a bright future as a global bank that can connect East and West.”
As an intermediary between HSBC, mainland China, Hong Kong and the rest of the world – including the sometimes volatile emerging markets – Wong is used to get through disputes. With mainland China becoming increasingly important to HSBC, there are likely to be more geopolitical fires to put out.
“We’ve been a guest in other people’s countries for the life of the bank,” said one former HSBC chief. “It is not surprising that crises often occur.”