HSBC’s chief financial officer decided to leave the company after becoming impatient with the timetable for the chief executive job to open up, according to people familiar with the matter.
Ewen Stevenson, 56 years old, in recent months told board members he wanted to be HSBC’s CEO and didn’t want to wait too long, the people familiar with the matter said. The board was unwilling to provide timing for a change or an assurance that Stevenson would get the job, the people said. CEO Noel Quinn has said he plans to stay for several more years.
The London-based bank surprised investors last week when it said Stevenson would step down as CFO at the end of the year. The bank said it made the change after reviewing its executive committee with a focus on succession planning. HSBC’s stock dropped 5% after the announcement.
Stevenson, well liked by investors and analysts, is leaving at a tumultuous time for the bank.
HSBC is Europe’s biggest bank by market value. Though based in London, it earns most of its profit in Asia and has been caught in the middle of geopolitical tensions between the West and China.
Earlier this year its top shareholder, China’s Ping An Insurance, launched a campaign to revamp the company — perhaps by splitting it up — to boost its shares in Asia and make the bank less beholden to UK regulators. HSBC’s executives have resisted such a move, which they say would undermine its strategy as a bank that connects regions around the world.
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HSBC hired Stevenson as CFO in January 2019 after he served in the same role at NatWest, formerly Royal Bank of Scotland. He spent the bulk of his career at Credit Suisse as a banker advising financial companies.
His exit is the latest sign of executive upheaval at the banking giant. HSBC has cycled through senior staff since chairman Mark Tucker started in 2017. Tucker named a new CEO, John Flint, in 2018, leading to the departure of the last CFO, who also had wanted the CEO job.
In 2019, Tucker said Flint wasn’t moving fast enough on strategy and replaced him with Quinn as CEO designate. For seven months, Quinn fended off other candidates before the job became permanent in 2020. An old guard of executives and some board members have departed since.
HSBC announced Stevenson’s planned departure on 25 October alongside the company’s third-quarter results.
Quinn said the company was nearly three years into a broad restructuring and that now was the time to start planning for who would eventually succeed him as CEO. Quinn, 60, didn’t specify when he might step down but said he plans to remain in his role for at least several more years.
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To fill the CFO job, HSBC named veteran investment banker Georges Elhedery, starting 1 January. He is now seen as the likeliest candidate for the CEO job when it opens up.
The bank botched an earlier succession plan a decade ago, leading its then-CEO, Michael Geoghegan, to depart when he was refused the job of chairman.
During the earnings call, Quinn said that Stevenson has “been fundamental in reshaping our portfolio globally, improving our capital efficiency, and embedding disciplined cost management across the organization.”
Stevenson said he was proud of his time at HSBC and that there was “absolutely zero disagreement” between him and Quinn on the company’s strategy.
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