The investigation into HSBC employees’ use of WhatsApp came as the bank released its annual results. The bank’s exposure to China’s struggling property market resulted in a $500m (£368m) hit against potential fallout from the crisis.
HSBC, which makes most of its money in Asia, said the charge would cover an “increase in allocations to reflect recent developments in China’s commercial property sector”.
Developers such as Evergrande, the Chinese property giant, have defaulted under the weight of debt payments in recent months. Last year, HSBC insisted it expected no material fallout from property sector woes.
Mr Stevenson said he expected a few more quarters of uncertainty ahead. “It would be brave to say this is a one-quarter event,” he said, hinting at new charges, but added: “It’s 1% of our total portfolio loans.”
London-headquartered HSBC is betting on growth in Asia and has moved senior executives to Hong Kong, where it was founded in 1865 to support international trade between China and Europe.
Mr Stevenson insisted that Hong Kong’s strict Covid measures, which largely cut it off from the rest of the world for two years, have still not affected hiring and retention in the city.
Staff are allowed to spend 15 days working elsewhere and can work during their mandatory self-isolation period upon returning to Hong Kong. “Our people tend to be very productive in isolation,” he said.
The lender said it expected weaker performance from its wealth management business in Asia in the first three months of this year.
Annual pre-tax profits soared by $10.1 billion to $18 billion, helped by the release of $900 million set aside to cover toxic Covid loans. Shares rose 0.8% to 551%, valuing the company at £111bn.
Noel Quinn, the chief executive, said he hoped rising interest rates would boost the business: “After absorbing the impact of low interest rates for some time, we believe we have turned corner on income.”
HSBC also plans to return an additional $1 billion to investors once a $2 billion buyout announced a few months ago closes.
Meanwhile, the bank has increased its bonus pool by more than a third to $3.5 billion as it fights to retain staff. Mr Quinn received a total of £9m last year, including £4.9m in pay and bonuses and £4.1m in long-term performance share awards .
Mr Quinn said the bank had a small exposure to Russia and had no plans to move staff out of Moscow.