HSBC Bank History

Written by rob wagner
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HSBC Bank History
(HSBC Holding plc)

The London-based HSBC bank, its formal name HSBC Holdings plc, is the world's largest banking organisation and ranks sixth in the world as the biggest company. Its name derives from the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation of Hong Kong. HSBC Holdings, established in 1990, is the parent company of the Hong Kong institution.


The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation was founded by Scotsman Thomas Sutherland in 1865 shortly after the United Kingdom established a colony in Hong Kong. Sutherland wanted to facilitate the burgeoning trade between Europe and China by offering financing to new and established businesses. The new company established a branch in Shanghai, then another in Japan before offering public loans in 1874.

HSBC Bank History
Sir Thomas Sutherland, founder of what is today HSBC Holdings plc.


Under manager Thomas Bart's leadership through 1902, the bank became the leading financial institution in Asia and served as the official Hong Kong government bank. New branches continued to open during the 1920s in Penang, Singapore, Bangkok, Manila and another in Shanghai. A new headquarters opened in 1935 in Hong Kong.

HSBC Bank History
An HSBC branch in Brunei in 1961.

On Hold

The bank's expansion plans stalled when Japanese troops seized Hong Kong in 1941 and then used the bank's headquarters as a military office. Two of the company's high-ranking managers died in an internment camp. But the bank made up for lost time in the early postwar years by acquiring the British Bank of the Middle East and the India-based Mercantile Bank.

HSBC Bank History
The HSBC headquarters in Shanghai was built in 1923.

More acquisitions

During the next 30 years, the bank acquired the Hong Kong-based Hang Seng Bank and created Wardley Ltd. in 1972 as a merchant bank service. It attempted a hostile takeover the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1980, but failed when the British government interceded on the behalf of RBS. Yet it continued to acquire more properties, this time in the United States by purchasing a 51 per cent holding in Marine Midland Bank.

HSBC Bank History
The HSBC building in London.

HSBC Holdings

By establishing public limited company (plc) the new HCBS was eligible to trade shares on the New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong and Bermuda stock exchanges. Throughout the 1990s it went on a spending spree, buying the Banco Bamerindus of Brazil for £0.6 billion in 1997; the Roberts SA de Inversiones in Argentina for £390 million two months later; and the New York-based Republic National Bank for £6.7 billion in 1999.

HSBC Bank History
An HSBC storefront branch during a period of the bank's rapid growth.

A Stumble

In its effort to acquire vulnerable financial companies, especially subprime lenders, HSBC acquired the U.S.-based Household Finance Corporation for £10.1 billion in 2002. It was an early foray into subprime lender acquisitions. But by 2009, HSBC lost £170 billion and shuttered its U.S. HSBC Finance division. HSBC Chairman Stephen Green later acknowledged the Household Finance deal was a disaster.

HSBC Bank History
HSBC Chairman Stephen Green acknowledged some of HSBC's financial missteps.

Standing Tall

While competitor Lloyds Banking Group, the parent company for the Royal Bank of Scotland and Halifax plc, recorded steep losses for the first quarter of 2009 due to bad loans, HSBC's previous sound acquisitions kept it in good shape as it reported first quarter 2009 profits. HSBC still wrote off about £16 billion in bad debts in 2008 but the losses were lower in the fourth quarter of that year than the first.

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