HSBC’s decision to shut down seven branches in Malta is simply a reflection of the massive changes in how people in the modern world are using banks, CEO Andrew Beane has said amid growing uncertainty.
“There are profound changes in the way customers are living their lives and using banks. The numbers are quite incredible. Globally, we are seeing that 80 per cent of bank transactions are done digitally, 40 per cent are on mobile devices,” Beane explained during a Times of Malta interview.
He stressed that HSBC did not “want to be a digital-only bank”, making reference to the combining of branches to make a new Qormi flagship office as well as the new wealth management centres opening across the country.
Beane was, however, reluctant to commit the bank’s long-term future on the island despite a series of specific question on the matter, explaining that HSBC “never make long-dated strategic statements”.
With the bank expecting a workforce reduction on a voluntary basis, Beane also refrained from revealing the extent job losses from the closure, insisting that “no employee is going to be asked to do anything they don’t want to”.
“This will be a choice that people can make. For those who would prefer to stay with HSBC, even if they are at a part of the bank that is changing, they will be exciting new opportunities elsewhere in the business.”
“I think we will find that people will consider the scheme attractive. We have seen that in the past and have no reason to believe it will be different this time,” he said.
Employees themselves could not be informed of the closures earlier because of stock market confidentiality obligations.
“Clearly it’s a shock if there’s a change and we understand that. We have done our best to tell our employees first thing [yesterday] morning,” he continued.
The decision to close the branches, Beane revealed, was made by the local arm of HSBC and was “carefully considered by the bank’s board”.
“The factors we have had to think about most significantly are the profound changes in customer behaviour. There is also a reality that interest rates across the EU have become negative.”
“The shareholders are bearing the cost of that,” he said.
Pressed on a risk-management programmed employed by HSBC, Beane insisted that it had been “a great success”.
“I have been very committed strategically that we put Mata’s leading digital services into HSBC. I believe our app will be the best in the country, that customers will love it.
“Growth in banking in the future will look different.”
“I think if you as a business do not have the courage and conviction to respond to that, ultimately your customers, your colleagues and your shareholders suffer in the long-term,” Beane explained.