HSBC CEO Noel Quinn steps down after driving Asia pivot for Europe’s largest bank

HSBC Holdings Plc’s Chief Executive Officer Noel Quinn is unexpectedly stepping down after nearly 5 years in the job, triggering a search for a replacement at Europe’s largest bank.

The board has begun a formal process to find a successor, considering both internal and external candidates, according to a statement Tuesday. Quinn will stay on during this process to ensure a smooth and orderly transition, it said.

During his tenure, Quinn led a series of strategic reviews that culminated in a plan to boost the bank’s investment in its Asian business, while cutting back in developed Western markets such as the US and France. 

“After an intense five years, it is now the right time for me to get a better balance between my personal and business life,” said Quinn in the statement. “I intend to pursue a portfolio career going forward.”

The departure comes as HSBC along with other China exposed lenders navigate an increasingly difficult geopolitical environment—potentially undermining firms that that have spent decades building their businesses there. 

The London-headquartered bank on Tuesday also posted a 1.8% drop in pretax profit to $12.65 billion, beating the $12.6 billion consensus estimate compiled by the company. The lender announced a new $3 billion buyback. 

Quinn was appointed permanent CEO in March 2020, having led the bank for several months following the ouster of his predecessor John Flint who stepped down in August 2019.

In 2022, Quinn told Bloomberg the promotion of former markets boss Georges Elhedery to chief financial officer was part of the bank’s long-term succession planning. “My ambition is to make sure there are no less than three and ideally four to five potential succession options that the board could consider within HSBC,” he said. 

Quinn began his banking career at British lender Midland Bank in 1987, which HSBC bought in 1992. He spent the majority of his career at HSBC working for the commercial banking unit, which he was led for several years before being picked by Chairman Mark Tucker to replace Flint.

This will be the third CEO search under Chairman Mark Tucker, who took the reins at HSBC in October 2017.