It is an interesting time for the world’s economy. Wavering stock markets seem to hint at a possible downturn while, for most businesses locally, trends still seem to be on the up.
One gentleman carefully monitoring the situation is Andrew Beane, the CEO at the helm of HSBC’s operations in Malta. As we begin our chat, I question Mr Beane on the state of economy at large and he explains that, at the moment, there are a number of reasons to be positive.
“The eurozone economy is showing signs of improvement and the local economy has done really well,” he says. “Here, our GDP growth has continued to be strong, unemployment is technically zero, Government finances are in good shape with a surplus, and everything seems very optimistic. Now, though, it is important to keep moving forward with sustainability in mind, and to ensure there is a good diversification of sectors and risks in the way we build up the local economy. This strategy has helped Malta very much in past generations, and it bodes well for the future, too.”
Switching his attention over to HSBC specifically, Mr Beane explains that 2017 marked the end of a significant multi-year restructuring process. It was a route that helped the bank to simplify its business model after the 2008 financial crisis. “In today’s world, complexity is something you have to manage very thoughtfully, especially in this highly-regulated industry of ours,” he says. “As a Group we have since decided to do less, but do it better.”
The bank has also had to go through a variety of high-level compliance exercises which have been transformative in terms of the defences that financial institutions in general need to provide against the risks of financial crime. “It’s a bit like security at an airport – you have to go through the inconvenience of it, but, in the long run, it is of benefit to you if you’re not one of the minority of people with bad intentions. Having largely completed this exercise, we are pleased with the progress we have made. And HSBC continues to exceed all of our ECB capital and liquidity targets which has enabled us, for the first time in almost 10 years, to be able to pay exceptional dividends to our shareholders, some €20 million in addition to our ordinary dividend.”
“This is also a really important sign of regulatory confidence in HSBC. We’re a different bank to the one we were in the past, but we are a better and stronger bank now. We have a platform for sustainable growth for the future. The period of dramatic change at HSBC is coming to an end, and we are ready and confident to grow our business again.”
With this in mind, Mr Beane underlines a few of the exciting ways that the bank is responding to its customers’ changing lifestyles. “We are really pleased with the progress we’ve made on social media, for instance,” he says. “We now reach some 150,000 visits via our social media platforms every week, and we have been really thoughtful about how we have set that up – we don’t censor the content we get, whether it’s positive or negative, and we have a team of dedicated employees who work solely on responding to customers online. It’s an excellent system.”
Banking is also set to get more modern in other ways, with a number of digital innovations due to be unveiled in the months to come. “We will continue to roll out our contactless payment cards, having already launched these to our Premier clients who hold a MasterCard. This means that users don’t need to worry about carrying cash or cheques, even when making low-value transactions.”
Another service that has just been launched is biometric technology for personal customers. “All you need to log on is your fingerprint – so there’s no need to remember passwords or other information. I think it’s brilliant because of the ease of access and convenience it provides, but also because it is so secure.”
Mr Beane goes on to explain that it is this type of innovative technology that HSBC is looking to spearhead. “Among our other initiatives is the introduction of electronic signatures, which is currently being piloted. This will mean customers can now sign all their necessary forms with a digital signature, which is both convenient and environmentally-friendly.
“We believe it is initiatives like these that really set the tone for proper, modern banking and the way that customers experience it. In fact, our business customers already enjoy some of the most advanced capabilities out there and we will continue to innovate; so much so that we are currently in the process of testing blockchain financing for trade in Singapore. We are experimenting with this, and plan to develop new capacities for customers in the future.”
As for other new offerings, Mr Beane explains that the bank has recently relaunched HSBC Fusion, its small business banking solution. “The critical thinking behind that was two-fold. Originally this service was quite centralised but we have now decentralised it so customers can walk into any HSBC branch and get business banking services. Plus, we have added a whole new suite of tech solutions that enable you to manage your business and personal banking through one set of logins. Given the fact that 98 per cent of businesses in Malta are small or micro, this is an important new development.”
Mr Beane looks towards what the rest of 2018 will offer. “I think the local position will remain positive, although I look forward to seeing faster progress on the digitalisation of the economy. As for HSBC, we are firmly focused on building back our business after this period of change, and we are eager to innovate. We’re confident, and believe our customers can be confident in the knowledge that HSBC sets the highest possible standards, which is important in today’s world. We are certainly optimistic,” he adds.
Finally, when it comes to the Bloomberg article that claimed that HSBC Group could exit or sell its Malta operations, Mr Beane says, “the bank is operating our business as usual. The article was about the Group’s strategy and was published by an international news agency and reported locally. It is based on rumour and speculation and, as a bank, we do not comment on such speculative reports. I reiterate that nothing has changed and we are operating normally.”
This article originally appeared in The Commercial Courier