Two early favorites in race for HSBC top Asia position

Top News | BLOOMBERG 14 Jan 2021

HSBC has kicked off an informal search to identify a successor for Peter Wong Tung-shun, its top Asia executive.

As the group pins its future on China, Europe's largest bank is grooming a set of well-connected bankers to navigate its fraught relationship with Beijing in the long run.

David Liao Yi-chien and Mark Wang Yunfeng, heads of Asia Pacific global banking and its China operations, respectively, were among a handful of contenders in the running to steer HSBC's expansion in the crucial mainland and Hong Kong markets, according to people familiar with the matter.

Liao, head of the Asia-Pacific global banking unit since April, previously oversaw China for five years, gaining experience in dealing with officials and regulators. But being born in Hong Kong and educated in the United Kingdom, he tended to be rigid when meeting with Chinese officials, said the people.

Liao is the son of Donald Liao Poon-huai, the first Chinese chief secretary before the handover.

He was popular among investors and analysts covering HSBC with his fluent English and deep knowledge of Chinese markets, the people added. Liao is also close to chief executive Noel Quinn and HSBC board member Laura Cha Shih May-lung, who was formerly a vice chairman of China Securities Regulatory Commission, they said.

Liao now helps lead a division that spans everything from debt capital raising to initial public offerings. The Asian unit accounted for more than 80 percent of the total adjusted profit of HSBC's global banking and markets in the first nine months of the year.

Wang, raised in Nanjing, a city just north of Shanghai, was seen as being more at ease with officials and state-owned enterprises and better able to navigate China's opaque regulatory and political environment.

Elevated to China chief executive last year, he has a personable style and has been a more public face for the bank, sources said.

However, Wang has only been in his new role since about March and will need more experience before taking on further responsibility, the people said. Wang joined HSBC in 2005 and oversaw China banking and markets from June 2016. He started in foreign exchange and bond trading at the Bank of China in the late 1980s and joined Deutsche Bank AG about a decade later.

Collectively, Hong Kong and China stood for more than 90 percent of HSBC's adjusted profit in the first nine months of 2020, but the mainland still represents a small part. Even so, the lender that started in Hong Kong in 1865 to connect China with the world is one of the largest investors among foreign banks in the mainland with a network of about 170 outlets across more than 50 cities and about 8,000 staff.

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