October 17, 2017

HSBC picks insider Flint to end Gulliver’s toxic reign


Stuart Gulliver’s controversial reign at HSBC is coming to an end after the bank appointed insider John Flint to replace him early next year.

Gulliver, 58, has presided over a string of scandals during six years as chief executive – from a £1.4bn fine for laundering Mexican drug money to accusations it helped shady clients hide cash in Switzerland.

The appointment of Flint, 49, who heads the retail banking and wealth management division, will be seen as an effort to put that past to bed.

John Flint has been seen as the frontrunner to replace Stuart Gulliver as Chief exec of HSBC for some time, he will officially take the reigns next year

John Flint has been seen as the frontrunner to replace Stuart Gulliver as Chief exec of HSBC for some time, he will officially take the reigns next year

John Flint has been seen as the frontrunner to replace Stuart Gulliver as Chief exec of HSBC for some time, he will officially take the reigns next year

He will take home up to £9.7million a year in cash and shares if he hits targets – including £2.9million in fixed pay, a £360,000 pension and up to £6.4million in annual and long-term bonuses.

Flint has long been seen as the frontrunner for the job.

But his appointment, less than a fortnight after new chairman Mark Tucker came in, suggests a desire to rapidly push through regime change.

It means Gulliver will quit in February, probably on the day the bank publishes its annual results, and sooner than many in the City had expected.

The new chief executive always wanted to be a banker.

Aged 15, Yorkshire-born Flint wrote to a friend of his headmaster who worked for HSBC to ask for advice.

CHIEF’S TAINTED TIME AT TOP 

  • Stuart Gulliver took over HSBC in 2011
  • He presided over a £1.4billion fine after money-laundering for Mexican drug gangs
  • The boss was also rocked by a tax evasion scandal among wealthy customers of its Swiss arm
  • He has earned at least £44millio during his time in charge
  • But shares in the bank are up more than 11 per cent since Gulliver became chief executive
  • And the bank has paid out £50billion to investors through dividends and share buybacks 

After attending independent boarding school Giggleswick in North Yorkshire and Dhahran Academy in Saudi Arabia – where his professor father moved the family when he was seven – Flint studied economics at Portsmouth Polytechnic and joined the bank in 1989.

The first 14 years were spent in Asia. He impressed during the regional financial crisis in the 1990s, when he managed to keep the Indonesian division’s global markets arm in profit.

Flint, married with two children, has also held roles in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, India, Bahrain and the US, returning to Britain in 2004.

After moving through senior jobs, including a stint as Gulliver’s chief of staff, he took up his current position in 2013.

The boss replaced Paul Thurston, who had been singled out in a fiercely critical Senate report on HSBC’s Mexican money-laundering scandal.

That crisis, which forced the bank to appoint an independent monitor to check it wasn’t breaking the law, was perhaps the biggest of Gulliver’s tenure.

But it is far from the only one the bank has faced.

A former top executive is facing trial for currency-rigging, and the last annual accounts revealed there were 37 separate legal probes into it across the world.

One of the investigations, into a tax avoidance scandal at the lender’s Swiss bank, even revealed that Gulliver had a secret account himself.

He said this was used to keep bonus payments private when he worked in Hong Kong before 2003, and there is no suggestion his actions broke any rules. Despite these controversies, HSBC’s share price has risen under Gulliver and the bank has consistently outperformed British rivals.

Flint is not expected to make any major changes to the bank’s strategy, although he did say yesterday that it ‘must continue to innovate and accelerate the pace of change’ if it is to remain successful. He said Gulliver had ‘an outstanding track record’.

The appointment was an early risk for Tucker, who has managed to avoid the corporate bloodbath that ensued when Gulliver took over. This time, other internal candidates thought to have been considered are not expected to leave the bank.

They are thought to have included UK and European head Antonio Simoes, finance director Iain Mackay and Lloyds boss Antonio Horta-Osorio.

HSBC shares fell 1.5 per cent, or 11.4p, to 747p yesterday.

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