Business

HSBC's Green becomes trade minister and Diamond to run Barclays

BBC business editor Robert Peston on changes at the top of HSBC and Barclays

It's all change at the top of the UK's biggest banks.

Stephen Green, chairman of HSBC, is quitting to become trade minister in the coalition government, I have learned.

The announcement of his appointment will be made this afternoon.

And Bob Diamond is replacing John Varley as chief executive of Barclays.

I'll write a longer note in the morning about what it all means.

But it is significant that the individuals perceived to have steered these two giant banks through the worst financial crisis in living memory are moving on.

In the case of Barclays, the appointment of Diamond confirms that the bank sees itself primarily as an international investment bank.

It'll generate speculation that Barclays might voluntarily spin off its historic British retail operation, even if not forced to do so by the government.

And the departure of Green may well prompt even greater talk that if HSBC doesn't like the reforms to be proposed by the government's banking commission, the group's domicile may be moved away from the UK (and, as I said in my note yesterday, bankers tell me that the most likely new home for HSBC would be Australia).

UPDATE 06:30: During the general election campaign, the three main parties were united in their condemnation of the tens of millions of pounds earned by Bob Diamond, who runs Barclays investment bank, Barclays Capital.

So in appointing Mr Diamond (who is thought to be worth around £100m in total) as the new chief executive of Barclays, the bank's board is taking the risk that the bank's relationship with many leading politicians - which hasn't always been close and friendly - could deteriorate.

This matters, at a time when the government has set up a high-powered commission to examine whether big universal banks such as Barclays - which combine an investment bank and a retail bank - should be dismantled.

Barclays has argued that it is a safer and more successful organisation for the way that it combines services to investors, businesses and individuals.

But if commission and government ultimately disagree, the appointment of Mr Diamond will be seen as proof that Barclays is prioritising investment banking, for the future.

Why is Mr Varley going? Well I was told many months ago by a member of Barclays' board that Mr Varley wanted to go before too long, while he was young enough to do other things.

Barclays, in an official sense, denied that Mr Varley had any such plans.

But now that he has decided that enough is enough, the bank's non-executive directors had no real choice other than to appoint Mr Diamond: even Mr Diamond's most jealous rivals would concede that he has done in impressive job in building up Barclays Capital or Barcap; and that it's the growth at Barcap which has turned Barclays into a leading global financial institution.

But this extraordinary expansion of Barcap has also transformed the group's culture. It is now the British bank which pays the biggest bonuses and the most bonuses. Which doesn't endear it to everyone.

UPDATE 07:19: This is what Barclays says about Mr Diamond's new pay arrangements.

"Bob Diamond will continue to work under his existing compensation arrangements for 2010.

"With effect from 1 January 2011, Bob Diamond's compensation arrangements will reflect his new responsibilities. The compensation arrangements have been benchmarked against a peer group of global universal banks, industrial companies and financial services institutions. Bob Diamond's salary will increase to £1,350,000 and his annual incentive award opportunity will be up to 250% of base salary. It is intended to award a long term, performance-based share incentive of 500% of base salary in 2011."

This implies that his annual remuneration could be as much as £11.5m.

At a time when the economy remains weak, this package is likely to spark widespread criticism.

You can keep up with the latest from business editor Robert Peston by visiting his blog on the BBC News website.

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