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A new member of HSBC's board voiced a worrying vision.

Ominous words for some people at HSBC?

If you work for HSBC's global banking and markets division and you thought that Georges Elhedery, the former rates trader who now co-heads the business, would determine your future along with CEO Noel Quinn, it seems you may have been only partially correct. According to an article on Bloomberg today, the strategic brains behind HSBC's reboot also include James Forese, the bond trader and former head of Citigroup's institutional client unit. Bloomberg says, possibly spuriously, that Quinn is more of an operations guy.

Forese was thrown into the mix in March when he joined HSBC's board after turning down the CEO position for 'personal reasons.' As a veteran trader who helped steer Citi through the period after the financial crisis, and who oversaw Citi's own program of layoffs while simultaneously being credited with turning Citi into the "only bank that can compete with JPMorgan for the top spot in fixed income," Forese could turn out to be HSBC traders' very good friend. They need one given that HSBC was already in the process of cutting 35,000 jobs globally (albeit with only a few still likely to go in the investment bank), and is now looking at cutting even more.

Forese's input might be less good news, however, for anyone in HSBC's operations or technology divisions. In 2018, while still at Citi, he famously suggested that Citi could dispense with up to half its 20,000 operations and tech staff in five years as their jobs were supplanted by automation. These roles were, “most fertile for machine processing,” said Forese, adding that the bank would keep hiring humans for other roles like sales and research. 

Forese left Citi in April 2019, before he had much of an opportunity to put this vision into practice. At HSBC, where Bloomberg says he's working with chairman Mark Tucker and CFO Ewen Stevenson on a strategy to cut costs without damaging revenues, it might finally get a chance to materialize. HSBC declined to comment, and it's possible that Forese's input is exaggerated in the Bloomberg piece. Operations and tech staff need to hope this is the case.

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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