Editorial | Upping the game

HSBC customers deserve better, especially in a context where the bank has registered higher profits


HSBC Malta’s profit before tax of €57.3 million in 2022 represents an increase of 113% over the previous year.

When delivering the results earlier this week, the bank attributed this performance to rising interest rates, favourable market movements that positively impacted insurance revenues, higher trading income, continued good progress on cost management and a significant recovery on a commercial non-performing loan.

The bank has recommended a gross final dividend of 5.61 cents per share.

A deeper look at the results shows that net loans and advances to customers decreased by €21.6 million in 2022, while customer deposits increased by 6% to €5.9 billion. This leaves the bank in a strong liquidity position.

The bank declared it remains committed to a safe growth strategy focussed on three strategic pillars: growth, customers and people.

The good results come against a background of branch closures and sustained efforts to push customers towards digital platforms.

The bank said that throughout 2022 it continued with its investment in digital services with the launch of new cards and upgrades to the card fraud management system.

But for all its claimed investment in digital services, HSBC remains a laggard when compared to other commercial banks in Malta and other digital payment services.

Contactless cards for non-premium customers were only introduced last year and it took time for them to be activated. Moreover, the changeover process was anything but smooth with customers being left financially stranded for a couple of days.

HSBC cards still cannot be used on the Apple Pay system, something which should be standard fare in an increasingly mobile world.

The bank also fumbled the upgrade to its new secure features some weeks ago when it sent out a poorly-worded SMS that panicked customers into accessing the online system at one go and causing it to crash.

But a more clamorous ‘mistake’ was made last week when the bank doubled the loan down payment requirement for house loans. The inexplicable change caused backlash and even prompted the Prime Minister to urge people to shop around for alternatives.

The bank eventually did a u-turn and reverted back to a down payment requirement of 10% with the CEO saying this was a genuine mistake.

We can never know whether it was a genuine mistake or not but the incident simply highlighted HSBC’s problems with at least two of its three strategic pillars – customers and people.

One would expect an international bank like HSBC to be at the forefront of innovation and customer friendliness but the experience in Malta suggests nothing of the sort.

With the bank shifting its focus to online platforms and digitalisation as it responds to changing customer demands and attitudes, it should not hold back from embracing the full potential of digitalisation.

HSBC customers deserve better, especially in a context where the bank has registered higher profits.

The banking sector remains a crucial player in the economy and HSBC is an important cog in the Maltese financial and banking eco-system. Expecting it to up its game is not a luxury.

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