Peter Wong retires as “must-have” HSBC statesman

When Peter Wong announced his retirement this week after a decade as HSBC’s Managing Director for Asia, he told staff that turning crisis into opportunity was “ingrained” in the bank’s DNA.

HSBC has gone through a series of crises in Europe, the United States and South America over the past 10 years – while Wong has quietly paved the way for Europe’s biggest lender in the wealthiest circles of Hong Kong and the corridors of power in Beijing .

By the time he became CEO of Asia, $ 8 out of $ 10 of the bank’s profit was generated in the region, but half of its loan portfolio and more than two-thirds of its capital was deployed. 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 in capital has been reallocated to the region. HSBC’s US operations and part of its European operations have been liquidated or sold.

Wong’s ties to Hong Kong’s business elite and the Chinese Communist Party have been crucial. Allies say the veteran Hong Kong banker has become “indispensable” for HSBC – he will retain the new role of the bank’s chairman in Hong Kong, a post traditionally held by the global CEO.

Yet the 69-year-old was embroiled in his own crisis last year when he compromised more than a century of cautious political neutrality at HSBC in sign a petition in favor of Beijing’s strict national security law in Hong Kong. It won praise in Beijing but catapulted Wong’s name onto the radar of angry politicians in Westminster and Washington.

“This caused serious hardship for Noel Quinn and Mark Tucker,” said a former HSBC board member, referring to the bank’s chief executive and chairman, respectively. “The focus has been on Peter’s political connections since signing the NSL petition, but that does a disservice to his 40-year career as a very successful banker.”

HSBC’s fortunes have become entangled with China. Wong’s relationship with the Communist Party – he sits on its main political advisory body – has been of enormous benefit to the bank. He eased tensions with Beijing after HSBC handed documents to US prosecutors investigating Chinese tech group Huawei into alleged sanctions violations.

“The Chinese government considers him a friend and a trusted person,” said Sir David Li, executive chairman of Bank of East Asia and Hong Kong’s longest-serving banker. Hong Kong Legislative Council member Jeffrey Lam said, “HSBC sits between two hotbeds: the mainland and the United States. Peter did very well – dealing with this conflict takes skill.

Wong, who is also a trusted friend and banker of Hong Kong tycoons such as Sir Li Ka-shing, Henry Cheng and Thomas Kwok, was debauched from Standard Chartered in 2005 when HSBC realized he did not There were hardly any top executives from Hong Kong or China. He was already established in mainland and local Chinese business and political circles as chairman of the influential Association of Banks in the territory.

Powerful friends deeply rooted in Hong Kong politics say he is “diplomatic” and “no nonsense.”

“He speaks very little but when he does he means what he says,” BEA’s Li said. Peter Ma, chairman of Ping An, the Chinese insurer which is HSBC’s largest shareholder, described Wong as the “oldest statesman” of international banking in Asia.

As chairman of the original Hong Kong bank, Wong will retain his status among the taipans – the city’s most revered businessmen. Although he was replaced at the head of Asia by two other junior colleagues, he will continue to live at Taipan House, HSBC’s $ 73 million residence for his local senior executive on the city’s exclusive Peak.

Most importantly, it will play a crucial role in shaping the territory’s future as an international financial center. Hong Kong has been forced to defend its reputation as a hub for global finance since the eruption of violent pro-democracy protests in 2019 and the introduction of the National Security Act last year.

Wong spends hours discussing issues “of critical interest to our future as an international financial center,” said Joseph Yam, Hong Kong’s first central banker who now sits on the legislative committee.

“People accuse [Hong Kong] to become more and more like China, ”he added. “This is silly – Peter is able to see it. It doesn’t have the kind of problematic culture we see on Wall Street, where financial institutions have become selfish rather than serving the economy. “

There is no retirement age at HSBC, so the timing of Wong’s departure has raised questions. An insider linked this to the decision to move four global business leaders from London to Hong Kong later this year.

“Peter has always had a lot of independence, now there will be a lot of people on the 34th floor of 1 Queen’s Road Central [HSBC’s historic local headquarters] bumping into him, trying to get attached to the very strong Hong Kong P&L, ”the person said.

“Status and number of faces for tons in Hong Kong,” said a former HSBC executive. “To be given the title of chairman of the original Hong Kong bank is therefore super nice.”

Announcing Wong’s retirement, Quinn said the time he spent with Wong “has helped me shape my belief that HSBC has a bright future as a global bank that can connect the East and the ‘Where is “.

As a mediator between HSBC, mainland China, Hong Kong and the rest of the world – including the sometimes volatile emerging markets – Wong is used to dealing with conflict. As mainland China gains importance to HSBC, it is likely that there will be more geopolitical fires to put out.

“We’ve been invited to other people’s countries for the life of the bank,” said a former HSBC boss. “It’s no surprise that seizures happen often. ”

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