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HSBC's Greater China head Helen Wong quits as bank loses second heavyweight in a week

Enoch Yiu and Chad Brayenoch.yiu@scmp.com

HSBC, the largest lender in Hong Kong, has lost its second senior management within a week.

The bank's Greater China chief executive Helen Wong Pik-kuen has resigned and will start on leave from Saturday, according to an internal memo seen by the South China Morning Post.

Wong, who joined HSBC in 1992, "has decided to leave HSBC to pursue an external opportunity", according to the memo sent by her boss, Peter Wong Tung-shun, deputy chairman and chief executive of Asia-Pacific, to all 47,000 staff in the Greater China region which she oversaw.

Wong's departure comes after the lender's surprise announcement on Monday that its group chief executive John Flint has left after 18 months on the job.

While Flint will be replaced on an interim basis by global commercial banking head Noel Quinn, there will be no replacement for Wong's position, and her responsibilities will be shared by the four heads of Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and mainland China, an HSBC spokeswoman said.

"Our four CEOs across Greater China are in a strong position to continue collaborating to deliver our Greater China growth strategy. Therefore, there will be no replacement," the spokeswoman added.

They are Diana Cesar in Hong Kong, PH Lau in Macau, David Liao in mainland China and Adam Chen in Taiwan.

The region under Wong was the largest at HSBC Group in terms of staffing, with 21,000 employees in Hong Kong and 26,000 on the mainland, which together represents 20 per cent of its 235,000 global staff, according to figures from the bank.

It is also a challenging region as she needed to help customers in Hong Kong and China deal with the impact of the year-long US and China trade war.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po on Wednesday warned that Hong Kong might slide into recession in the third quarter because of the trade war and the increasingly violent protests in the city against the now-abandoned extradition that has now entered a third month.

HSBC helps China's manufacturers expand their production lines in Southeast Asia to dodge trade war tariffs

Despite the headwinds, HSBC's pre-tax profit from its Hong Kong operations still rose 11 per cent to US$3.15 billion in the second quarter, the bank said on Monday.

The spokeswoman said Wong's decision to leave has "no connection with Huawei, no connection with former group chief executive John Flint leaving the bank, and no connection with the job cut plan mentioned on 5 August".

HSBC on Monday announced a plan to cut less than 2 per cent of its workforce to reduce the rate of its cost growth in a more challenging market environment.

Wong had worked briefly at other lenders before joining HSBC and worked in many of its departments.

Peter Wong's memo noted her contribution in maintaining HSBC's presence as the largest foreign bank on the mainland. "During her tenure as chief executive of Greater China she was a strong supporter of RMB [yuan] internationalisation and sustainable finance as well as HSBC's presence in the Pearl River Delta."

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2019 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.