Poll shows morale falling among HSBC staff as strategic review looms

LONDON • A survey of HSBC Holdings' 237,000 staff has highlighted falling morale as employees brace themselves for job cuts in a strategic review due later this month.

At HSBC's European arm, confidence in the bank's direction dropped 21 points in the second half of last year compared with the first half, according to an internal document seen by Bloomberg News.

Only 38 per cent of employees in Europe (excluding the British business), which is expected to bear the brunt of the coming cuts, said they felt confident about the firm's future, while just 28 per cent said they were seeing a "positive impact" from the bank's strategy, a fall of 15 percentage points.

The findings reflect an unstable period at the bank, which ousted its former boss John Flint last August before embarking on sweeping changes under interim chief executive Noel Quinn. Global turbulence from the coronavirus and pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, where HSBC makes about a third of its revenue, have added to the uncertainty ahead of a strategic review expected alongside results on Feb 18.

"Confidence in the future has dropped everywhere except in some Latam (Latin America) markets," said the bank in documents seen by Bloomberg. Across HSBC, there was an 8 percentage point drop in confidence to 66 per cent. On the upside, 63 per cent of staff agreed that "leadership is genuinely receptive to being challenged", a rise of three points.

"The increase in neutral sentiment suggests a 'wait-and-see' approach to HSBC's strategy. This underscores the need for clear and consistent messaging to support forthcoming strategy updates," the internal report stated.

The poll will make sober reading for HSBC's directors. More than 100,000 employees took part in the survey, including in businesses and countries that are expected to face cuts. In France, where HSBC is already trying to sell its retail bank, less than half the employees said they were confident about the firm's future.

HSBC wrote to its employees on Feb 3 in an attempt to calm fears, saying they would be given full details of the plans later this month and warning of "speculation in the media" as to the nature of the coming announcement.

"While we appreciate that this can be unsettling, we cannot and do not comment on media speculation," the bank told staff.

A spokesman for HSBC declined to comment for this article.

BLOOMBERG