Business

HSBC will make move decision 'in months not years'

An HSBC branch in Switzerland Image copyright Reuters

HSBC says it will make its decision whether to move its headquarters out of the UK within months rather than years.

It has been based in the country since 1993, when it moved here in order to take over High Street giant Midland Bank.

"It's going to take us a few months, not years [to make a decision]," said chief executive Stuart Gulliver.

Only 250 jobs out of 48,000 UK-based HSBC employees would be transferred if the headquarters relocated, said HSBC.

The bank may give details of the methodology that it will use to assess whether to move on 9 June.

Its decision will be submitted to HSBC's board before being taken to its shareholders.

The review follows plans announced in the Budget to increase the bank levy from 0.156% to 0.21%.

The levy particularly affects banks with large balance sheets, such as HSBC.

"It's quite hard to hire people in Guangzhou and explain to them why their compensation has to be constrained [by what happens in the UK], particularly when US and others don't have to," said Mr Gulliver.

HSBC intentionally announced its headquarters review before the UK general election in order to make it "as apolitical as possible", said Mr Gulliver.

The statements came as HSBC reported a pre-tax profit of $7.06bn for the first three months of the year, up 4% on last year.

The bank's profits in Europe and Asia, HSBC's biggest markets, increased, while its non-core markets declined slightly.

"Our business recovered well in the first quarter following a difficult [fourth quarter]", said Mr Gulliver.

HSBC is grappling with accusations of foreign exchange manipulation and assisting tax avoidance.

The UK is investigating allegations that HSBC's Swiss private bank helped clients to evade tax.

The scandal "has undoubtedly done reputational damage to the firm" and "affected [employees'] sense of pride in the firm", but had had very little impact on HSBC's private banking performance, said Mr Gulliver.

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