HSBC’s decision to move its UK business from the City to the Midlands will help the bank to create a new culture outside of London and bring it closer to customers, its chief executive has told The Yorkshire Post.
In a wide-ranging interview, Alan Keir, the CEO of HSBC Bank plc, spoke about the group’s plans for its British retail and commercial banking business and its investments in Yorkshire, the state of the regional economy, how the Government can help increase UK exports and the role of business schools in helping companies to become more productive and attracting inward investment.
Mr Keir, who is a member of the international advisory board at Bradford University School of Management, is a 33-year veteran of HSBC, joining Midland Bank as a graduate trainee.
He has risen through the ranks to become responsible for the group’s operations in the UK, Continental Europe, Turkey, Bermuda, the Middle East and Africa.
HSBC is considering whether to move its headquarters out of London to Asia, most likely Hong Kong, in response to new rules requiring banks to separate their retail operations from riskier investment activities. It has already announced plans to base its ring-fenced UK business in Birmingham.
Mr Keir said the group has leased space and started moving staff to the city and building work is under way on new offices.
He said: “The UK business will be based in Birmingham and that will stimulate the regional economy. The purpose of that is to get us back to serving the wider communities. It’s better to create that new culture outside of London. As for the headquarters’ domicile, that’s a matter for the board and I’m not going to comment.”
Mr Keir added: “London is obviously a great financial centre and a wonderful place for many businesses including banks to be headquartered but you have to remember for the UK business a lot of that is about serving the SMEs, the communities that are out there and having a grounding in that in a regional city is a useful thing.
“That break enables you to redefine a bit of the culture and get it back to serving the local economies, not just the Midlands economy, all economies - we have a big operation in Yorkshire.”
The group employs around 8,300 people in this region. Mr Keir said HSBC has very important investments in Yorkshire, including First Direct and a branch contact centre based in Leeds and IT and operational structures representing “the guts of the business” in Sheffield and a key data centre in the region.
Mr Keir said like most regional economies, activity in Yorkshire is beginning to pick up. He added: “The recovery started in London and the South East but I think it is spreading. We see it in terms of loan books moving forward... There’s just a greater sense of confidence about the place following a number of very difficult economic conditions.”
He added: “There are clearly global issues that can impact it, whether it is issues in Europe or issues that are wider afield be that in Asia or elsewhere, but most countries would look at the UK right now as a good recovery story.”
Mr Keir would not comment on the situation in China, which this week saw its biggest stock market fall in eight years.
He said business schools can help regional economies tackle long-term problems with low productivity through educating managers to run their companies in a better way.
Distance learning also provides an opportunity for business schools to develop strong global links, which can benefit cities as locations for foreign direct investment as international students develop affinities for places like Bradford, he added.
Mr Keir also urged the Government to cut the excessive number of schemes designed to help exporters.
Britain’s efforts to close the trade gap have been hit by weak demand from Europe, meaning that businesses must look further afield for growth markets.
Mr Keir said: “There are too many schemes supporting exporters. That needs rationalising.”
He said the Government should make it easier and simpler to do business abroad. He added: “There is a plethora of schemes, issues and rules. Simplify. Do fewer things better.”
Mr Keir said the Govermment should also encourage language tuition and, more fundamentally, provide certainty about the UK economy to give businesses the confidence to put money into new markets.
A spokeswoman for UKTI said: “We continually review our services to ensure that Government is responding to the needs of companies at all stages of their export journey.
“The support available is designed to suit the demands of companies depending on the sectors and markets being targeted.
“As a way of streamlining this, we are looking to improve our digital offering so that companies can find more of the tools they need in one place.”
Mr Keir was closely involved in the creation of HSBC’s ‘Manifesto for British Exports’ in 2013, which published practical suggestions on how Government, trade associations and financial institutions can work together to help SMEs export and grow.
HSBC, the world’s biggest trade finance bank, has been working with UK Trade and Investment, the Government agency, to create business centres in Warsaw, Shangai, Mexico and Shanghai, which was opened by the Duke of Cambridge in February.
Mr Keir said: “British exporters who are trying to access those markets can drop in, have IT connectivity, have people advise them - accountants, lawyers and so forth - and enable them to get their business up and running.”
Not a conventional career banker
Alan Keir joined the international advisory board at Bradford University School of Management in 2014 “to give something back” after studies at the institution set him on the path to become one of Britain’s most senior bankers.
The Scot admits he was “a little bit astray in his schooling and perhaps not that focused”.
Mr Keir took a year out before Bradford University gave him the chance to read social sciences.
He joined Midland Bank after graduating and become one of the first staffers to be asked to work in Hong Kong following the takeover by HSBC.
Mr Keir said: “In many ways I’m not a conventional career banker. I didn’t go to public school and didn’t go to Oxbridge. I don’t hold that against myself.”
He said he was very keen to help Bradford University School of Management.
Mr Keir added: “I remember the business school as being one of Britain’s leading business schools and there was a real desire by the new vice chancellor Brian Cantor, the dean of the business school Jon Reast and the chairman of the international advisory board Delroy Beverley to get the business school back to that position and there’s great progress already going on.”