HSBC’s Chief Steps Down, in a Surprise

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LONDON — HSBC’s chief executive, John Flint, is stepping down after 18 months in the role, a surprise announcement that the bank said Monday was “by mutual agreement with the board.” Noel Quinn, the bank’s chief executive for commercial banking, will fill the top job on an interim basis while the bank begins a global job search.

Mr. Flint resigned on the same day that HSBC, Europe’s largest bank by assets, reported what several analysts described as solid results. Profit after tax for the first half of 2019 rose 18.1 percent to $9.9 billion, while revenue was up 7.6 percent to $29.4 billion.

But the bank also announced job cuts amounting to nearly 2 percent of its global work force of close to 238,000. One analyst, Benjamin Toms at RBC Capital Markets, an investment bank, cited “geopolitical uncertainty” as affecting the bank’s global business.

HSBC, with headquarters in London, appears to be preparing for a more challenging environment as the trade wars between the United States and China cast shadows over its critical Asia businesses, and Brexit remains unresolved. HSBC, which was founded in Hong Kong, generates about 80 percent of its profit in Asia.

“In the increasingly complex and challenging global environment in which the bank operates, the board believes a change is needed to meet the challenges that we face,” Mark Tucker, the bank’s chairman, said in a statement on Monday. He said internal and external candidates would be considered for the top job.

The bank said its “outlook has changed” and listed a number of reasons, including “geopolitical issues” that could affect some of its major markets and uncertainty over “the nature and impact” of Britain’s departure from the European Union. The bank also said interest rates on the dollar appeared headed down rather than up, a potential headwind. Last week, the Federal Reserve lowered its benchmark rate for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis.

Mr. Flint, 51, who spent his entire career at HSBC, said in a statement: “I have agreed with the board that today’s good interim results indicate that this is the right time for change, both for me and the bank. After almost 30 years with HSBC, I will be sad to leave, but I do so looking forward to a new personal challenge, and confident that our people will continue to serve the bank’s stakeholders in the best possible way.”

Mr. Toms, the RBC analyst, said a steep fall in profit in the bank’s important global banking and markets business reflected changing conditions facing the company. He said geopolitical uncertainty and the changing interest rate environment were weighing on “trade flows, growth and investor sentiment.”