HSBC reviews its options

May 11 will be a red letter day in the life of HSBC as new chief executive sets out his strategy for the future of the bank.

Uppermost in the minds of HSBC's Canary Wharf workforce - where the strategy will be outlined - is be the impact on the retail arm of the bank.

The little that Stuart Gulliver has revealed of himself indicates a man with a laser focus on costs and money discipline. He has spoken of a "very disciplined approach to allocation of capital" and the fact that the bank's cost-efficiency ratio was "totally unacceptable".

That essence of discipline, commentators have suggested, means that the 51-year-old may bring a whiphand to the sprawl of worldwide activities - and their costs - the bank has pursued.

The Sunday Telegraph has suggested that an in-depth focus on the UK retail operation shows that a large cost element could be stripped out, both in terms of the branch office and central operations.

In practical terms, that could mean hundreds of staff at 8 Canada Square being shipped out to a cheaper part of the country.

Although HSBC is saying nothing about any of these rumours, the move to split the investment and retail banking would pre-empt any recommendations of the Independent Commission on Banking, which is likely to favour a split in the wake of the credit crunch excesses.

Such a divestment would also mirror what senior figures are suggesting will be Mr Gulliver's overarching message - that individual units and businesses within the company must stand on their own two feet and be less reliant on the bulk of HSBC to hide any excessive costs or failings.

Leigh Goodwin, analyst at Citigroup, told the Sunday Telegraph: "I don't think it's HSBC's style to be revolutionary. In a funny sort of way the fact they've been perceived to have a good crisis is a problem."

He pointed out that Gulliver does not have the mandate for total change that some of his rivals have been given and he would damage himself if he distanced himself from a philosophy of which he was very much a part.

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