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HSBC said to approach former AIG boss as possible CEO

HSBC Holdings Plc has approached Peter Hancock, the former boss of American International Group Inc, to be its next chief executive officer as incoming Chairman Mark Tucker considers internal and external candidates to lead Europe's largest bank, a person familiar with the matter said.

[LONDON] HSBC Holdings Plc has approached Peter Hancock, the former boss of American International Group Inc, to be its next chief executive officer as incoming Chairman Mark Tucker considers internal and external candidates to lead Europe's largest bank, a person familiar with the matter said.

The board has contacted Mr Hancock, a 59-year-old former JPMorgan banker, as a potential replacement for Stuart Gulliver, who is retiring next year, said the person, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity about succession issues. In the meantime, top HSBC executives seeking the CEO role are said to have had informal talks with Mr Tucker, other people familiar with the matter said.

Before the appointment of Mr Tucker, also 59, who replaces Douglas Flint in October, HSBC had drawn every one of its previous 21 leaders from its own ranks over more than 150 years, according to the bank's records.

The board responded to calls from shareholders for greater independent oversight after five years of slumping revenue and a litany of misconduct issues since the financial crisis.

An official for HSBC declined to comment.

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Mr Hancock stepped down from AIG this year, following a seven-year career at the insurer. He lost the support of investors including activist billionaire Carl Icahn, who pushed Mr Hancock to simplify the company and faulted him for failing to meet profitability targets.

Mr Hancock and Mr Tucker overlapped for a few months at AIG in 2010, when the insurer spun off Hong Kong-based AIA Group Ltd, which Mr Tucker formerly led.

Cambridge Fellow

While Mr Hancock would be an outsider, he's cut from the same cloth as many HSBC lifers. Born in London, raised in Hong Kong and educated at Oxford University - as was current CEO Mr Gulliver - he then spent two decades at JPMorgan, where he ran the fixed-income business and eventually became chief financial officer. Rounding off his British establishment credentials, Mr Hancock is a William Pitt Fellow at Cambridge University's 669-year-old Pembroke College.

"It's absolutely no surprise HSBC will look outside for the next one; that's deemed to be the correct thing to do in terms of good corporate governance in this day and age, especially considering their previous 21 leaders have all been insiders," said Ian Gordon, an analyst at Investec Plc in London.

"Whoever they pick, there's not going to be a change in strategy: Accelerate loan growth, take out costs and generate a more acceptable return."

HSBC shares fell 1.1 per cent to 721.7 pence in London. The shares are still up more than 50 per cent over the past 12 months.

Lloyds Banking Group Plc CEO Antonio Horta-Osorio has also been linked with HSBC in UK media reports, but has consistently said he's happy at his current firm.

Mr Tucker is also considering internal candidates and started informally speaking with top managers two weeks ago to introduce himself and discuss the future of the firm, according to separate people with knowledge of the talks, who asked not to be identified as the conversations were private.

Internal Candidates

Among HSBC executives Mr Tucker could choose, those most highly tipped for the top job include John Flint, chief of retail banking and wealth management; Antonio Simoes, who runs the bank's UK and European regional operations; and Samir Assaf, the head of the investment bank, the people said. All have worked for the firm for at least seven years and sit on the executive committee.

Those executives will try to persuade Mr Tucker the recent stock rally and improved results under current CEO Mr Gulliver, a 37-year HSBC veteran and former trader, vindicate the current team's three-year-old strategy, said the people. They will also emphasise the importance of preserving the bank's culture to the chairman, they said.

Global head of banking Matthew Westerman may also come under consideration, said the people. Though a recent hire, he was the bank's principal external adviser at Goldman Sachs Group Inc for years before joining in February 2016.

Asia-Pacific CEO Peter Wong and 42-year veteran Peter Boyles, who now runs the private bank, also have plausible claims to the top job, they said.

Iain Mackay, HSBC's finance director, will also be considered by Mr Tucker, another person with knowledge of the process said. An accountant by training, Mr Mackay joined the bank in 2007 after holding various financial positions at General Electric Co in the US.

HSBC declined to make any of the executives available to Bloomberg News for an interview.

Stock Surge

HSBC showed a glimpse of top-line growth in the first quarter across its retail and investment banks, and the stock surged to a four-year high after it passed the Federal Reserve's stress tests last week, freeing up as much as US$7 billion in capital for dividends and buybacks.

The firm is steeped in tradition, stemming from the days when the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation financed trade in the British Empire. Staff are keen to preserve legacies like the international manager programme, which seasons promising young executives with global postings that often turn into lengthy, civil-service type tenures, one of the people said.

The internal candidates will also argue that having a CEO and chairman from outside the company would be more disruption than the bank needs, they said.

The US fined HSBC US$1.9 billion in 2012 after it was found to have violated sanctions laws and allowed Latin American drug traffickers to launder hundreds of millions of dollars. HSBC has also been caught rigging foreign-exchange markets and benchmark interest rates, and endured a private-banking scandal in 2015 that saw Gulliver and Douglas Flint grilled in the UK Parliament.


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