Having been headquartered in London since 1993, the world’s fifth-largest bank has towered above the capital from its 650 foot Canada Square skyscraper since 2002.
From there it has overshadowed the antediluvian City of London as the premier symbol of UK financial services; craning shots of Canary Wharf a mainstay of post-2008 media coverage on Europe’s banking clout.
In its most recent results for Q3 2015, Asia accounted for 62% of the bank’s pre-tax profits (compared to 32% from Europe), so the long-running drama of whether or not it should move its HQ to Hong Kong seemed sensible. Or did it?
For some commentators, relocation was never a serious option, or at least a move to that part of Asia.
“The idea that suddenly Chinese regulation would be better than London brings to mind the idea of the frying pan and the fire,” says Justin Urquhart Stewart, head of corporate development at Seven Investment Management.
“If you are trying to run a global operation, Hong Kong is no longer the place to be, rather if you want to be in the Far East it is Singapore that is more attractive.
“But frankly Singapore does not have the capacity that London has and so if you want to draw on the right resources of people and facilities in depth, you really don’t have too much choice.”
Hong Kong, opines Urquhart Stewart, stands in the “shadow” of China: “Today it’s one country, two systems and it’ll be one country and probably one system eventually.
“Even a lot of Chinese money bypasses Hong Kong and goes directly to Singapore which is seen as being much more international efficient, and some would say officious, in its haul of regulation from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).”