Chief heads east as HSBC refocuses on China

HSBC's chief executive is to relocate from the UK to Hong Kong to reflect the East's position as the world's new "centre of economic gravity", the bank said yesterday.

Michael Geoghegan will be based in Hong Kong from 1 February, although the company stressed that it would stay in London for tax purposes, had no plans to move and the Financial Services Authority would remain its regulator.

In a second high-profile banking development, the Treasury yesterday confirmed the appointment of Stephan Wilcke as chief executive of the government's Asset Protection Agency, which oversees the 585 billion toxic asset insurance scheme.

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Wilcke, who joins the agency from credit asset manager Cairn Capital, having previously been a partner with private equity firm Apax Partners, will start on Monday. He takes over from Jeremy Bennett, who agreed to act as chief executive until the establishment of the agency.

HSBC said yesterday that Geoghegan's move "further positions the group for the shift in the world's centre of economic gravity from West to East".

It is a return to its roots for HSBC, founded as the Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation in 1865, the largest international bank in the region.

Geoghegan, 55, who will also become chairman of the bank's Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation subsidiary, said: "It's about building this business in Asia. We know the business is coming our way and we intend to be here to take it.

"West is coming east and we want to be at the gate into China and be in China itself, and the most logical place to work on that strategy is Hong Kong."

Sandy Flockhart, the Scot who was previously chief executive of the bank's Asian arm, becomes chairman of HSBC's global retail banking and commercial banking activities. The latter division involves lending to businesses ranging from the small to multi-nationals.

Flockhart's other responsibilities will also include HSBC's Latin American and African businesses.