In Depth

HSBC shares rise after £1.5bn buyback pledge

Plan takes total returned to investors in past three years to more than $25bn

HSBC online banking down again due to cyber attack

29 January

HSBC customers were unable to access online banking services for the second time in a month today, in the wake of an apparent cyber attack.

Facing criticism on social media for the second website outage since the new year, this time on the critical payday and also two days ahead of the self-assessment tax-return deadline, the bank said it had been the subject of a serious hacking attempt. It added it had "successfully defended against the attack, and customer transactions were unaffected".

"HSBC internet banking came under a denial of service attack this morning, which affected personal banking websites in the UK," a spokesman for the bank told the BBC. "HSBC has successfully defended against the attack and customer transactions were not affected… We apologise for any inconvenience this incident may have caused."

Denial of service, or distributed denial of service, attacks involve hackers using various computer-generated or co-opted IP addresses to bombard a website with traffic, causing it to overload. The BBC says such attacks can often be simply mischievous or ideologically driven, but have been known to extract a ransom from the target business.

In an article on last year's assault on telecommunications firm TalkTalk that exposed customer data, The Guardian quotes one online security expert saying denial of service attacks can also be used to map security systems and that attempted theft of data can "come on the heels".

Earlier this week, HSBC said that a separate failure of its online systems in the first week of January, which left 275,000 people unable to access services, had resulted from it trying " to push too big a payment through the system in one go". It has since updated its processes to stop the issue arising again.

MPs have told banks they need to do more, including employing computing experts, to stem a tide of services outages that have in recent years also affected Royal Bank of Scotland, its subsidiary NatWest and Barclays, the Daily Telegraph reports.

HSBC 'strongly leaning' towards keeping HQ in London

25 January

HSBC is "strongly leaning" towards retaining its global head office in London and could finalise a decision this week.

According to sources who spoke to the Daily Telegraph, the bank, the world's largest by assets, is keen to bring to an end its nine-month review as soon as possible. "It is understood that the 20-person group board is due to hold a two-day meeting at the end of this week in Hong Kong" with a view to reaching a conclusive verdict, says the newspaper.

A decision had been expected initially at the end of last year. This was eventually pushed back and a formal announcement was thought likely to coincide with the bank's annual results next month. 

Even this had been described as an "update", leading to speculation the decision could be kicked into the long grass again amid the turmoil of the global markets. But now there appears to be pressure to end the uncertainty over where the bank "will call home for at least the next decade". If a decision is taken this week, it could well be announced immediately.

So where will it decide to go, with global centres including Hong Kong and Toronto still in the frame? Well, the Telegraph reckons it is very likely to remain in the UK, where policymakers have backed away from the most onerous regulation that had been mooted.

But that it is still not a foregone conclusion.

"It is known that at least a handful of board members are adamant that HSBC should leave the UK after 23 years, but it will be a majority decision and does not require support from all," the newspaper says.

If a decision is not reached this week, attention will turn to the next board meeting on the eve of the bank's annual results in late February. HSBC shares were down 0.8 per cent to 476p this morning.

HSBC rules out New York as it edges towards HQ decision

22 January

HSBC has ruled out moving its headquarters to New York, as it edges towards a final decision at the end of an exhaustive ten-month review.

Sky News cites sources saying that despite earlier serious consideration, a move to the US has been rejected. It "had always been a non-starter", adds the source, in part "because a US tax on dividends would hit HSBC's army of retail shareholders in Hong Kong".

Some intrigue is added to the decision by the fact that former US secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Henry Kissinger have been giving the bank's board "advice about the geopolitical context of its looming decision".

HSBC bosses have promised to give an update on its review next month – and Sky News reckons they are "keen to announce a firm decision" to avoid ongoing uncertainty. A final decision is by no means a certainty, though, as reports earlier this week, following a speech at the World Economic Forum by chief executive Stuart Gulliver, suggested a global markets rout may prompt a further delay.

Changes by the UK government to lessen the impact of a bank levy and by the regulator to soften incoming banker regulations have boosted the chances that the headquarters will stay in London, although it is thought that a move to Hong Kong, Toronto or even a financial centre in France is still very much in the frame.

HSBC has repeatedly declined to comment on its headquarters review or on its progress.

HSBC app will 'nudge' customers to spend less and save more

19 January

HSBC is today launching a new app designed to help customers avoid incurring painful overdraft charges and encourage them to put more money aside in savings.

The Nudge app will intervene when spending spikes abnormally or exceeds pre-determined targets. It will also offer impromptu hints based on the user's habits to improve budgeting and boost saving.

Examples cited in the Daily Telegraph include notifications that spending on a particular product, such as coffee, has spiked over a month, that an account is on track to fall below zero or that outlay on groceries is ahead of others with a similar income. Customers will have to sign up for the free app to prevent "nannying" of those who feel able to manage their own finances.

The app is being trialled by around 500 employees who bank with HSBC ahead of a public roll-out in the next two to three months. It follows the 2014 launch of a text-message alert system to warn those approaching their overdrafts that they may incur charges, which is said to have saved HSBC and First Direct customers around £85m last year.

Banks are under pressure to prove they are not profiting from a lack of consumer understanding of charges or their financial difficulties. Regulators are introducing rules to force account providers to issue alerts when current account rates change, while there are also likely to be new measures to tackle profiteering from credit card customers struggling to keep up with their debts.

HSBC will stay in UK, says top investor

13 January

One of the largest institutional shareholders in banking giant HSBC reckons its year-long head office review will result in a decision to remain in the UK.

Martin Gilbert, the chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management, which has a 2.3 per cent stake in HSBC, stressed in an interview with Bloomberg Television [1] that he did not have knowledge of senior management thinking, but that the bank's bosses would likely decide to stay put due to the intense complexity and cost involved in moving.

"The logistics of moving their headquarters out of London are so vast… I suspect, much as they might want to move their headquarters, they will probably on balance stay here," Gilbert said.

The Times adds that "his view chimes with the mood in the City that Europe’s biggest bank has begun to move away from the idea of relocating".

HSBC raised the prospect of moving its head office at the beginning of last year, in the wake of an increase in the banking levy and amid uncertainty over the future of relegation. Rival cities such as Hong Kong, New York and even Toronto have been considered, but in the year the review has been ongoing, the UK government has eased the tax burden for bigger banks and regulators have stepped back from some of the more intrusive interventions that had been proposed.

Some investors, including Invesco Perpetual and Standard Life Investments, had said creeping regulation might make a compelling case to leave. On the other hand, Hermes Investment Management argued the global regulatory set-up in London meant it remained by far the best choice. All of those that have commented publicly have said they would support the HSBC board's eventual decision.

On a separate note, Gilbert became the latest business leader to indicate he was not horrified at the prospect of a so-called Brexit from Europe.

Saying that stopping the "stream" of new laws from the EU would be desirable, he added that a UK vote in favour of leaving the bloc would be "inconvenient but would not be too disastrous".

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