Discontent grows among HSBC workers as business review looms

LONDON: A survey of HSBC Holdings Plc’s 237,000 staff has highlighted falling morale as employees brace themselves for job cuts in a strategy review due later this month.

At HSBC’s European arm, confidence in the direction of the bank dropped 21 points in the second half of 2019 compared to the first half, according to an internal document seen by Bloomberg News.

Only 38% of employees in Europe, which excludes the UK business and is expected to bear the brunt of the coming cuts, said they felt confident about the company’s future, while 28% were recorded saying they were seeing a “positive impact” from the bank’s strategy, a fall of 15%.

The findings reflect an unstable period at the bank, which ousted its former boss John Flint last August before embarking on sweeping changes under Interim Chief Executive Officer Noel Quinn.

Global turbulence from the coronavirus and pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, where HSBC makes about a third of its revenue, have added to the uncertainty ahead of a strategic review expected alongside results on Feb 18.

“Confidence in the future has dropped everywhere except in some Latam markets,” said the bank in documents seen by Bloomberg.

Across HSBC, there was an 8% drop in confidence to 66%. On the upside, 63% of staff agreed that “leadership is genuinely receptive to being challenged”, a rise of 3 points.

“The increase in neutral sentiment suggests a ‘wait-and-see’ approach to HSBC’s strategy. This underscores the need for clear and consistent messaging to support forthcoming strategy updates,” the internal report stated.

Facing cuts

The poll will make sober reading for HSBC’s directors. More than 100,000 employees took part in the survey, including in businesses and countries that are expected to face cuts.

In France, where HSBC is already trying to sell its retail bank, less than half the employees said they were confident about the bank’s future.

HSBC wrote to its employees on Feb 3 in an attempt to calm fears, saying that they would be given full details of the plans later this month and warning of “speculation in the media” as to the nature of the coming announcement.

“While we appreciate that this can be unsettling, we cannot and do not comment on media speculation,” the bank told staff.

A spokeswoman for HSBC declined to comment for this article.