China’s Ping An Insurance Now Second Largest Shareholder in Britain’s HSBC Bank

By Jennifer Hughes | December 7, 2017

HSBC has a three-year head start on its foreign investment banking rivals in China because of the British bank’s unique position of having management control of its securities venture there, chief executive Stuart Gulliver said on Thursday.

Gulliver’s comments come after Beijing, in a surprise move last month, announced it will allow foreigners to control their onshore operations. Currently non-Chinese groups are limited to 49 per cent stakes in joint ventures in the fast-growing market.

HSBC’s 51 percent control of HSBC Qianhai Securities is unique because it was able to use its long-established Hong Kong unit to take advantage of a rule favoring banks based in the city.

Many international banks are keen to launch new Chinese ventures with majority control or to boost their stakes in existing partnerships to help integrate those operations with their global networks and to better manage reputational risk, bankers have said.

But it will be some years before things fall into place for foreign majority-owned ventures to kick off, according to HSBC’s CEO.

“The regulations will come in two years time. Then you have to pick your partner and you’ve got to hire people – we think we’ve got a three-year head start,” Gulliver told a media briefing at the launch of its securities joint venture in Shenzhen.

The joint venture, with Qianhai Financial Holding Co., an investment unit controlled by local government, is part of the UK-headquartered bank’s “pivot to Asia” – a strategy launched in 2015 that aimed to capitalize on its strong links in the region and the closeness of China’s Cantonese-speaking Pearl River Delta region to HSBC’s Hong Kong stronghold.

The venture’s license allows HSBC to underwrite bond and equity sales in the mainland and to act as a broker for shares listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen. It can also publish research on Chinese companies to local clients. So far, almost 100 staff have been hired, with investment bankers making up the biggest group.

Asia accounted for 70 percent of HSBC’s adjusted pre-tax profit in the first nine months of this year. Gulliver said on Thursday he expected the Pearl River Delta business, which includes retail and commercial banking as well as the new securities business, to produce $1 billion in cumulative pre-tax profit in the next three to five years and add about $500 million a year after that.

The bank has about 17,400 staff in the area already, with 15,000 in data processing and software. About 2,400 are in its branches – a number he expects to double by 2020.

Gulliver is due to step down in 2018 as chief executive after seven years at the helm. He will be replaced by John Flint, who currently runs the bank’s retail and wealth management division.

The CEO welcomed news that Ping An had become HSBC’s second-largest shareholder. The Chinese insurer began buying shares in 2016 as part of its insurance investments and on Wednesday passed the 5 per cent threshold after which it had to announce its holding.

“We are really very happy about this,” Gulliver said, adding that he and other senior managers met regularly with Ping An executives as they did with other large shareholders.

(Reporting by Jennifer Hughes; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)


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