HSBC is a familiar feature of many high streets in the UK and this is hardly surprising, given that it is the largest bank in Europe. But could this be about to change? With uncertainty surrounding the UK’s in-out vote on the EU, the future of the banking levy and HSBC’s desire to reduce the size of its operations, the UK high street might start to look quite different.
In the UK, 26,000 staff are employed in its retail banking sector, with 48,000 workers across the whole of its UK banking operations. HSBC has plans to downsize its business globally, with expected job losses in the UK of 8000 workers and a total of 25,000 jobs across the world. This would reduce its workforce by around 10%. This could have big implications for the UK economy. Although many of the job losses would not be enforced, given that HSBC does have a relatively high staff turnover, it is likely to mean some forced redundancies. With job creation being one of the big drivers of the UK economy in the last couple of years, this could put a dampner on the UK’s economic progress.
A further change we are likely to see will be the renaming of high street branches of HSBC, as new government rules are requiring HSBC to separate its investment and retail banking operations. Much of this stems from the aftermath of the financial crisis and governments trying to reign in the actions of the largest banks. Ring fencing has aimed to do this as a means of protecting the retail banking sector, should the investment banking part of the bank become problematic.
However, perhaps the biggest potential shock could be the possibility of HSBC leaving the UK and moving to a new base in Hong Kong. A list of 11 criteria has been released by HSBC, outlining the factors that will influence its decision on whether to stay or go.
The UK’s decision on Europe is likely to be a key determinant, but other key factors against remaining in the UK are ‘the tax system and government policy in support of [the] growth and development of [the] financial services sector’. HSBC pays a large banking levy, as it is based not just on UK operations, but on its whole balance sheet.
HSBC’s Chief Executive, Stuart Gulliver, has said that the discussion on the potential move to Hong Kong is based on the changing world.
“We recognise that the world has changed and we need to change with it. That is why we are outlining the following… strategic actions that will further transform our organisation… Asia [is] expected to show high growth and become the centre of global trade over the next decade… Our actions will allow us to capture expected future growth opportunities.”
Leaving the EU will have big effects on consumers and businesses, given that it is the UK’s largest market, trading partner and investor. Whether or not decisions of key businesses such as HSBC will have an impact on the referendum’s outcome will only be known as we get closer to the day of the vote (which is still some way off!). It will, however, be interesting to see if other companies raise similar issues in the coming year, as the referendum on the EU draws nearer. We should also look out for any potential change in the UK’s banking levy and what impact, if any, this has on HSBC’s decision to stay or go and on the future of any other banks.
Has HSBC already decided to leave the UK? The Telegraph, Ben Wright (10/6/15)
HSBC plans to cut 8,000 jobs in the UK in savings drive BBC News (9/6/15)
The Guaridan view on HSBC: a bank beyond shame The Guardian (10/6/15)
HSBC brand to vanish from UK high streets Financial Times, Emma Dunkley (9/6/15)
HSBC job cuts should come as little surprise Sky News, Ian King (9/6/15)
HSBC in charts: Where the bank plans to generate growth Financial Times, Jeremy Grant (9/6/15)
HSBC’s local rethink can’t shore up global act Wall Street Journal, Paul Davies (9/6/15)
Can George Osborne persuade HSBC to stay in the UK? BBC News, Kamal Ahmed (9/6/15)
- What is the UK’s banking levy and why does it affect a company like HSBC disproportionately?
- Look at the list of 11 criteria that HSBC have produced about staying in the UK or moving to Hong Kong. With each criterion, would you place it in favour of the UK or Hong Kong?
- Why is the banking sector ‘not a fan’ of the government policy of ring fencing?
- What impact would the loss of 8000 UK jobs have on the UK economy?
- Why does it matter to a bank such as HSBC if the UK is a member of the EU?
Original post (19/9/11)
The Independent Commission on Banking (ICB), led by Sir John Vickers, has just delivered its report. Central to its remit was to investigate ways of making retail banking safer and avoid another bailout by the government, as was necessary in 2007/8.
The report recommended the ‘ringfencing’ of retail banking from the more risky investment banking, often dubbed ‘casino banking’. In other words, if the investment arm of a universal bank made a loss, or even faced collapse, this would not affect the retail arm. The ringfenced operations would include banking services to households and small businesses. Wholesale and investment banking would be outside the ringfence. As far as retail banking services to big business are concerned, these could be inside the ringfence, but details would need to be worked out about precisely which banking services to big business would be inside and which would be outside the ringfence.
The ICB was keen to stress that the ringfence should be high and that the retail arm should be both operationally and legally separate from the wholesale/investment arm. The ringfenced part of the bank should have a capital adequacy ratio of up to 20% (above the Basel III recommendations), with at least 10% of liabilities in the form of equity. Capital could only be moved from the ringfenced arm to the investment arm of the bank if this did not breach the 10% ratio.
The ICB report also recommends measures to increase competition in banking, including making it easier to switch accounts, greater transparency about the terms of accounts and a referral of the banking industry for a competition investigation in 2015. The cost to the banking industry of the measures, if fully implemented, is estimated to be between £4m and £7m.
Because of the requirement in the report for banks to build up their capital and the danger that a too rapid process here would jeopardise the expansion of lending necessary to underpin the recovery, banks would be given until 2019 to complete the recommendations. Moves towards this, however, would need to start soon.
In December 2011, the government announced that it would accept most of the ICB report, including separating retail and investment banking. It would not, however, demand such stringent capital requirements as those recommended in the report.
The following articles examine the details of the proposals and their likely effectiveness. The later articles examine the government’s response.
Original articles (some with videos)
Vickers report: main points The Telegraph (12/9/11)
Bank reforms aim to get taxpayers off the hook Money Marketing, Natalie Holt, Steve Tolley (15/9/11)
Vickers report: key point Guardian, Jill Treanor (12/9/11)
Vickers report: banks get until 2019 to ringfence high street operation Guardian, Jill Treanor (12/9/11)
Bank reform: To rip asunder The Economist (17/9/11)
Banking reforms: Good fences The Economist (17/9/11)
Banks barred from putting depositors’ money at risk as Vickers’ reforms increases costs by up to £7 billion The Telegraph, Harry Wilson (12/9/11)
Vickers report: Q&A The Telegraph (12/9/11)
Vickers report: reaction The Telegraph (12/9/11)
ICB bank reforms could cost UK banks £7bn a year The Telegraph, Harry Wilson (12/9/11)
Money Insider: Will reforms really shake up the high street? Independent, Andrew Hagger (17/9/11)
Bank reforms bring quick improvements Financial Times, Elaine Moore (16/9/11)
Vickers’ critics are missing the point Financial Times, Diane Coyle and Jonathan Haskel (12/9/11)
The Business podcast: The Vickers report Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty, Jill Treanor and Nils Pratley (13/9/11)
Vickers: Bank reforms ‘will get taxpayers off the hook’ BBC Radio 4, Today Programme, Sir John Vickers (12/9/11)
‘Enormous dilemma’ for UK’s biggest banks BBC Radio 4, Today Programme, Robert Peston (12/9/11)
ICB report and press conference
Press Conference: Vickers: Banks ‘must be ring-fenced’ BBC News (12/9/11)
Portal to Full Report and Transcript of Opening Remarks by Sir John Vickers at Press Conference. Independent Commission on Banking
Later articles and webcasts
Chancellor George Osborne to announce banking split BBC News, Nigel Cassidy (19/12/11)
Osborne to address MPs on Vickers’ report into banking BBC News (19/12/11)
Bank break-up law by 2015 BBC News. Robert Peston (18/12/11)
Osborne to Pledge U.K. Bank Legislation by 2015 Bloomberg, Gonzalo Vina and Jennifer Ryan (19/12/11)
In bank reform, ‘in full’ must mean exactly that Independent (19/12/11)
How far and how fast is key to the reforms Independent, Ben Chu (19/12/11)
George Osborne poised to bring in full banking reforms The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead and Harry Wilson (18/12/11)
EU will not impede Vickers reforms Financial Times, George Parker and Sharlene Goff (18/12/11)
- Explain the difference between a capital adequacy ratio and a liquidity ratio. Will the Vickers proposals help to increase the liquidity of the retail banking arm of universal banks?
- Does it matter if equity capital in excess of the 10% requirement for retail banking is transferred to a bank’s investment arm?
- What risks are there for a bank in retail banking?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of bringing in the measures gradually over an 8-year period?
- Does it matter that the capital adequacy requirements are higher than under the internationally accepted standards in Basel III?
- Assume that there is another global financial crisis. Will the proposals in the report mean that the UK taxpayer will not have to provide a bailout?
The final debate between the three party leaders was mainly on the economy. A key issue under debate was how each party would cut the huge budget deficit and how households and businesses would be affected. Something that we may see in the future is a banking levy and possibly new powers given to the Bank of England to ‘ration credit in boom years’. Spending cuts and tax rises are inevitable, but there were differences between the parties as to the extent of these changes and when they are likely to occur. The articles below consider these important issues, as the election entered the final 72 hours.
The broadcast debate
Prime Ministerial Debate: The Economy BBC Election 2010
Articles and podcasts
Economic debate: Banks and a balanced economy BBC News, Peston’s Picks (29/4/10)
General Election 2010: a fact checker for the leaders’ debate on the economy Telegraph (29/4/10)
Tim Harford on the truth behind leaders’ claims BBC Today Programme (30/4/10)
- It is not unusual for countries to have a budget deficit, so why is the UK’s receiving so much attention in the election?
- What is the difference between retail and investment banking?
- What do you think David Cameron meant by giving the Bank of England power ‘to call time on debt in the economy’?
- What is the difference between the budget deficit and national debt?
- What are the arguments for and against cutting the budget deficit now, as the Conservatives want to do and cutting it in the next financial year, as Labour is suggesting?
President Obama has proposed a major reform of the US banking system. This follows on from the proposed levy to be imposed on banks’ assets announced a few days ago (see “We want our money back and we’re going to get it”).
There are two elements to the new proposals. The first is to limit the size of banks’ market share. Currently, banks’ deposits are not permitted to exceed 10% of total retail deposits in the USA. This 10% limit would be extended to cover wholesale deposits and other liabilities. The idea is to reduce concentration and increase competition. At present the largest four banks hold over half the total assets of banks in the USA.
The second element involves separating casino banking from retail banking. This would be achieved by barring retail banks from owning or investing in private equity or hedge funds or from engaging in ‘proprietary trading operations’. As the second BBC article below states:
Proprietary trading involves a firm making bets on financial markets with its own money, rather just than carrying out a trade for a client in which only the client’s money is at risk.
This comes close to restoring the Glass-Steagall Act, which was repealed in 1999. The Act, which was passed in 1933 in the wake of the 1929 Wall Street cash and the subsequent Great Depression, separated commercial banking and investment banking. It was designed to prevent customers’ deposits being exposed to the riskier activities of investment banking.
What have been the reactions to President Obama’s announcement? Are these reactions justified? Will the proposals prevent another banking crisis and credit crunch? The following articles explore these questions.
Obama hammers the banks Financial Times, Tom Braithwaite and Francesco Guerrera (22/1/10)
Obama pushes new bank regulation (including video) BBC News (21/1/10)
Q&A: Obama’s bank curbs BBC News, Martin Webber (21/1/10)
Obama announces dramatic crackdown on Wall Street banks (including video) Guardian, Jill Treanor (21/1/10)
Barack Obama bank reforms: Trying to fix a broker society Telegraph, Louise Armitstead and Helia Ebrahimi (23/1/10)
Glass-Steagall lite The Economist (22/1/10)
Obama’s Plan Finally Attacks “Too Big to Fail” The Huffington Post, Neil K. Shenai (21/1/10)
Obama Sizes Handcuffs For Banks Forbes, Liz Moyer (21/1/10)
Obama’s Showdown With Wall Street Forbes, Richard Murphy (22/1/10)
President Obama shows the way Independent (23/1/10)
Wall Street’s $26m lobbyists gear up to fight Obama banks reform The Observer, Andrew Clark (24/1/10)
Obama’s drawn first blood – now it’s the UK’s turn The Observer, Ruth Sunderland (24/1/10)
Gordon Brown to push for ‘Tobin tax’ after Wall Street crackdown Guardian, Larry Elliott and Jill Treanor (22/1/10)
Myners: UK does not need to copy Obama banking reforms Guardian, Andrew Clark, Jill Treanor, Paul Owen (22/1/10)
Debate on London’s banking system The Observer, Will Hutton and Boris Johnson (24/1/10)
What Obama’s bank reforms really mean BBC News blogs, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (22/1/10)
Davos 2010: Central bankers seethe behind closed doors BBC News, Tim Weber (29/1/10)
- What are the arguments for and against separating retail banking from the more risky elements of investment banking?
- Should banks be allowed to fail? Explain your answer and whether it is necessary to distinguish different types of banks.
- Would putting a limit on the market share of banks prevent them from achieving full economies of scale?
- Why did banking shares fall after President Obama’s announcement? Was this a ‘good sign’ or a ‘bad sign’?
- What is meant by the ‘broker-dealer’ function of banks? Explain each of the specific types of broker-dealer function.
- Compare recent UK measures to control banks with those in the USA.
In a speech to Scottish business organisations, Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, argued that it might be necessary to split banks up. The aim would be to separate the core retail banking business, of receving deposits and lending to individuals and businesses, from the more risky and exotic wholesale acitivites of banks, such as securitisation, speculation and hedging – so-called ‘casino banking’.
Governments around the world, as represented at the G20 meeting at Pittsburg in September, have favoured tougher regulation of banks. But Mervyn King believes that this is not enough. It may not prevent the reckless behaviour that resulted in the credit crunch and bank bailouts by the government. “Never has so much money been owed by so few to so many. And, one might add, so far with little real reform.” And if regulation were to fail and banks were to get into difficulties, what would happen? There would have to be another bailout. As Mervyn King said, “The belief that appropriate regulation can ensure that speculative activities do not result in failures is a delusion.”
There are two key problems.
The first is Goodhart’s Law. If rules are set for bank behaviour, banks may adhere to the letter of the rules, but find ways around them to continue behaving in risky ways. The rules may cease to be a good measure of prudent behaviour.
The second is moral hazard. If banks know that they will be bailed out if they get into difficulties because they are too big to fail, then this encourages them to take the risks. As Mervyn King said in his speech, “The massive support extended to the banking sector around the world, while necessary to avert economic disaster, has created possibly the biggest moral hazard in history. The ‘too important to fail’ problem is too important to ignore.”
So should the banks be split? Is there any likelihood that they will? Or are Mervyn King’s proposals merely another headache for the government? The following articles looks at the issues. The first link below is to his speech.
Speech by Mervyn King, Governor to Scottish business organisations, Edinburgh (20/10/09)
Mervyn King: bail-outs created ‘biggest moral hazard in history’ (including video of part of speech) Telegraph (20/10/09)
Governor warns bank split needed BBC News (20/10/09)
A sombre warning BBC News, Stephanomics (20/10/09)
Alistair Darling rebuffs Mervyn King’s attack over timidity of banking reforms Guardian (21/10/09)
King and Brown in rift over whether to split the banks Independent (22/10/09)
Tucker set to join calls for stricter controls on banks Scotsman (22/10/09)
Testing times for bank regulators Financial Times (21/10/09)
Mervyn King is right – the economy is changing and we’re blindfolded, without a map Telegraph, Edmund Conway (22/10/09)
- Explain what is meant by ‘moral hazard’ in the context of bank bailouts. Are the any ways in which banks could be prevented from failing during a crisis without creating a moral hazard?
- Does regulation necessarily involve Goodhart’s Law? To what extent is it possible to devise regulation and avoid Goodnart’s Law?
- What are the arguments for and against splitting banks’ core business from more risky ‘casino banking’?
- Does the separation of retail and investment banking necessarily involve splitting banks into separate organisations? If they are not split, how can the government or central bank underwrite retail banking without underwriting riskier investment banking?