HSBC considering moving headquarters from Britain in wake of regulatory reforms

LONDON – HSBC is considering moving its headquarters from Britain in the wake of “regulatory and structural reforms” imposed after the 2008 financial crisis, the bank’s chairman said Friday.

Douglas Flint told the annual general meeting that the board had asked management “to commence work to look at where the best place is for HSBC to be headquartered in this new environment.”

Flint said the bank was responding to reforms including a demand to separate its investment and retail banking arms in Britain.

He also cited uncertainty about whether Britain will remain in the European Union as a cause for concern.

Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to hold a referendum on whether to leave the 28-nation bloc if he is re-elected next month.

Flint said HSBC believed that reforming the EU from within was “far less risky than going it alone.”

Victoria Webb, a dealer at London Capital Group, said this was not the first such headquarters review, but the timing, weeks before Britain’s May 7 election, “will be seen as a clear signal to all political parties that business and the City is not happy with the way the electioneering is going.”

HSBC originated in Hong Kong and has been based in Britain since 1992 when it took over the U.K.’s Midland bank. The global group employs 266,000 people, 48,000 of them in Britain.

HSBC is under investigation in several countries after leaked documents suggested its Swiss bank hid millions of dollars as it helped wealthy people around the world dodge taxes.

Flint acknowledged that “the recent past has been very difficult for HSBC” and apologized for “unacceptable behaviours” that had gone unchecked.

“HSBC has paid a heavy price,” he said. “Our reputation has been damaged.”