When Peter Wong announced his retirement this week after a decade as HSBC chief executive for Asia, he told staff that turning the crisis into an opportunity was “integrated” into the DNA of the bank.
HSBC went through a serious crisis in Europe, the United States and South America over the past 10 years – while Wong has quietly paved a path for Europe’s largest provider in Hong Kong’s wealthiest circles and in Beijing’s power corridors.
Around the time he became CEO of Asia, $ 8 for every $ 10 of the bank’s profits was generated in the region, but half of his loan portfolio is more than two-thirds of their capitals were located in Europe and the United States.
Now, growth in China and Hong Kong has become the core of their global strategy and more than $ 100 billion in capital has been reallocated to the region. HSBC’s operations in the United States and part of its European operations have been liquidated or sold.
Wong’s ties with Hong Kong’s trade elite and China’s communist party have been crucial. Allies say the veteran Hong Kong banker has become “indispensable” to HSBC – he will remain in a new role as chairman of the bank in Hong Kong, a position traditionally held by the global CEO.
Yet the 69-year-old was put in a crisis of his own last year when he compromised more than a century of careful political neutrality at HSBC by signing a petition in favor of Beijing’s harsh national security law in Hong Kong. That won applause in Beijing, but catapulted Wong’s name to the radars of angry politicians in Westminster and Washington.
“It has caused serious difficulties to Noel Quinn and Mark Tucker,” said a former member of the HSBC Board, respectively, referring to the bank’s executive director and chairman respectively. “The emphasis has been all on Peter’s political connections since he signed the NSL petition, but that makes his 40-year career as a very good banker a disgrace.”
HSBC’s fortunes are intertwined with China. Wong’s relationship with the communist party – located on its political advisory body – has been a huge benefit to the bank. It eased tensions with Beijing after HSBC released documents to U.S. prosecutors investigating Chinese technology group Huawei for alleged sanctions violations.
“The Chinese government considers him a friend and a trusted person,” said Sir David Li, executive chairman of the Bank for East Asia and Hong Kong’s oldest banker. Jeffrey Lam, a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, said: “HSBC is between two foci: the mainland and the United States. Peter dealt with it a lot – tackling this conflict requires skill. ”
Wong, who is also a trusted friend and banker to Hong Kong tycoons such as Sir Li Ka-shing, Henry Cheng and Thomas Kwok, was lucky by Standard Chartered in 2005 when HSBC realized he had almost no major Hong Kong or China leaders. He was already established in Chinese and mainland political and local circles as president of the territory’s influential Association of Banks.
Powerful friends deeply involved in Hong Kong politics say he is “diplomatic” and “absurd”.
“He talks little, but when he says, he means what he says,” Li said of BEA. Peter Ma, chairman of Ping An, the Chinese insurer that is HSBC’s largest shareholder, described Wong as a “former statistician” of international banks in Asia.
As president of the original Hong Kong bank, Wong maintains his status among Hong Kong taipani – the most revered affairs of the city. Although he will be replaced as Asia leader by two other junior colleagues, will continue to live in Taipan House, HSBC’s $ 73 million residence for its former local executive on the city’s exclusive Peak.
More importantly, it will play a crucial role in shaping the future of the territory as an international financial center. Hong Kong has been forced to defend its reputation as a global financial center since the eruption in 2019 of violent pro-democracy protests and the introduction last year of the national security law.
Wong spends hours discussing issues that are 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 are accusing me.” [Hong Kong] to become more and more like China, ”he added.“ It’s stupid – Peter is able to see that. It doesn’t have the kind of problematic culture we see on Wall Street, where financial institutions have become self-sufficient 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 to the decision to transfer four global business leaders from London to Hong Kong next year.
“Historically, Peter 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] encounter him, trying to attack Hong Kong’s very strong P&L, ”the person said.
“Status and face count for tons in Hong Kong,” said a former HSBC executive. “So being given the title of chair of the original Hong Kong bank is super sweet.”
Announcing Wong’s retirement, Quinn said his time working with Wong “helped shape my belief that HSBC has a bright future as a global bank that can bridge east and west.”
As a mediator between HSBC, mainland China, Hong Kong and the rest of the world – including sometimes volatile emerging markets – Wong is accustomed to navigating conflicts. As mainland China grows in importance for HSBC, it is likely that there will be more geopolitical fires to extinguish.
“We have been guests in each other’s countries for the rest of the bank’s life,” said a former HSBC chief. “It’s not surprising that crises happen often.”