HSBC's 14,000 new layoffs: When will Gulliver stop cutting jobs?

HSBC, Europe's largest bank, announced Wednesday it will lay off up to 14,000 employees by 2016.

Story highlights

  • HSBC, Europe's largest bank, to lay off up to 14,000 staff between 2014 and 2016
  • Staff cuts part of effort to save $2-$3 billion over next few years
  • 'HSBC terribly bloated' says one executive search director
  • Wealth management jobs growing, investment banking in Asia falling, says expert

HSBC, Europe's largest bank by market capitalization, will lay off 14,000 employees around the world to save $2 billion to $3 billion by 2016, the company announced Wednesday.

The layoffs -- representing more than 5% of its 254,000 workers worldwide -- will come on top of some 42,000 job cuts in the past two years as the bank has sought to reorganize its operations to increase profits and efficiency in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis.

"HSBC in my view is terribly bloated," says Christine Houston, Managing Director of Executive Search Group International in Hong Kong. "If you compare them to Citi, UBS, a lot of the American banks who did their layoffs closer to 2008, HSBC is just an anomaly. The number of staff is just incredible."

That realignment could see redundancies in HSBC's non-core markets -- "probably Europe and South America" -- while Asia will continue to be "a growth market," predicts Jonathan Hollands, managing director of executive search firm Carraway Group.

An HSBC spokesperson said "all geographies and business will be reviewed but there are no specific details."

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This week's layoff announcement had been widely expected. In March, HSBC's CEO Stuart Gulliver had said he would "fixate on costs" in 2013.

"They're still not finished with redundancies," cautioned Hollands of Carraway Group. "They are still restructuring,"

But HSBC's need to still lay off workers "is probably the exception" than the rule when comparing it to other global banks, says Houston of Executive Search Group International.

"It very much depends on the institution and what lines of business they are in. U.S firms have really tried to cut to the bone. They might exit some businesses and then you would see redundancies...(like in) mergers and acquisitions and investment banking."

Hollands believes other major banking corporations need to follow HSBC's streamlining.

"(Singapore-based) DBS and OCBC could do with that sort of realignment," says Hollands. "Business banking -- they're very good at that. They should be focused on that. The same for (Hong Kong-headquartered) Standard Chartered. UBS has got to ask itself 'what is our core business' and 'do we give up on wealth management'."

Similar questions exist for larger global banks including Deutche Bank, Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse, adds Hollands.

Looking ahead, analysts agree that job loss will occur at differing speeds depending on the sector.

"We are seeing an increase in wealth management (jobs), an increase in risk management compliance that deals with regulatory aspects," says Hollands. "We're seeing a dropoff (in jobs) of cash equity sales and structured product demand and a big drop in investment banking in Asia.

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