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Analysis-HSBC’s direction questioned after Elhedery’s sprint to the CEO contender By Stocksak

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© Stocksak. Georges Elhedery, Chief Financial Officer at HSBC, poses for a picture in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/HSBC/Handout

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By Sinead cruise, Lawrence White and Anshuman Dahl

LONDON/SINGAPORE – Georges Elhedery was appointed chief financial officer of HSBC. It’s the culmination a journey that has seen him move from war-torn Lebanon into the top spot at Europe’s largest bank. It’s also surprised investors and raised questions about HSBC’s direction.

Known at HSBC for his strategic vision more than for his accounting skills, Elhedery has climbed the ranks of HSBC’s investment bank since joining in 2005. The 48-year old is now just one step away to the top position. “It was a surprise to us,” said Hugh Young, Asia chairman of Aberdeen Standard Investments, one of HSBC’s top 25 shareholders. Young stated that Noel Quinn, CEO, has done a great job but that investors want faster progress. Elhedery’s move to CFO comes at a difficult juncture for HSBC. HSBC shares have fallen nearly 10% since Quinn was officially appointed CEO in March 2020. The company has also been caught up in tensions between China and the West. Ping An, the bank’s largest investor, is urging it to explore other options, including listing its Asia-related business. HSBC has resisted. The bank’s performance isn’t helping.

HSBC’s profit dropped 42% in the third quarter due to an increase in bad loans in the face a grim global economic outlook.

Investors were also alarmed by the bank’s 2023 forecast for net income, which it did despite a favorable interest rate environment. The bank sent its shares nearly 7 percent lower on Tuesday. Elhedery also declined to comment on this article. Elhedery spoke through an HSBC spokesperson.

Stocksak had previously heard Quinn say that there was no strategy change as a result of these leadership changes. Quinn stated that the bank, headquartered in London, had succession in mind. Ewen Stephenson, HSBC’s chief financial officer, has been trying to increase profitability by selling off business and cutting costs. Some wondered if Elhedery would excel at this task. One person who knew Elhedery suggested that he was skilled in operation but may lack the accounting expertise associated with the CFO position. Another source stated that Elhedery was more skilled in people and strategy management than he was in accounting. Analysts were also surprised by Stevenson’s departure. Stevenson was seen as a trusted advisor who had helped the bank navigate a period of restructuring, as it sought to reduce costs and trim its business around the globe.

“It’s very disappointing to hear that Ewen is stepping down, he has had a transformational impact on HSBC’s cost discipline, bringing much-needed credibility to its financial targets and execution,” said Ian Gordon, analyst at Investec.

CIVIL WORRIES

Elhedery was born in Beirut during Lebanon’s civil war, which split its capital into Christian East and Muslim West. Based on interviews he has given, Elhedery grew-up with a father who was a banker and a mother who was a teacher.

Elhedery moved to Paris to study engineering at the École Polytechnique and took a postgraduate degree in statistics and economics.

He started his career as a rate trader in banking. He joined HSBC in 2005 to work in the Global Banking and Markets division and quickly rose up the ranks.

He took over the Middle East and North Africa region of the bank in 2016. He managed 10,000 employees across all business lines and was responsible for capital management, risk, financial crime and compliance.

He was named co-head of Global Banking and Markets in 2020. This division houses HSBC’s trading and investment banking advisory services.

He surprised colleagues at HSBC by announcing a sabbatical. This was described at the time as a time to recharge his batteries and spend time with his family.

This was as executives were moving to Hong Kong as part of a wave HSBC relocations of senior roles in the bank’s largest market.

Greg Guyett, Greg Guyett’s co-head of investment bank Greg Guyett, was left to manage the business alone. Elhedery returned to the business in September and said that he would concentrate on projects with Quinn.

Elhedery is a regular at the bank’s Diversity and Inclusion events. According to one person, he has taken an equal interest in the needs and wants of junior staffers and senior ranks. According to one former employee, Elhedery runs 10km before going to work each day. Stocksak was told by this former employee that this tells everything about him.

News Source and Credit

Stocksak Editorial

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