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HSBC Philippines: 148 years and still growing

Published Nov 29, 2023 8:35 am

As far back as 1865, when the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp. (HSBC) first opened its doors to the public, the bank recognized the immense importance of the Philippines in the global economy. The country by then was already a dynamic leader in trade and one of the emerging economies in Asia.

Then, as it does now, the bank serves its Filipino customers and opens new opportunities for them in the international world of business and finance, along with growth in their personal wealth. It uses 148 years of knowledge of the Philippine business environment and its intimate relationship with its local customers to offer them unique products tailor-made for their needs.

“Our customers are mainly those who are ‘international’ and have plans of expanding their businesses internationally. Banking with us is unique since we can open customers to opportunities beyond the Philippines and also give them access to investment products offshore,” said Sandeep Uppal, president and CEO of HSBC Philippines.

“As an example, HSBC Premier account holders can be assisted to open accounts in countries where they may need to have accounts such as if they have children studying abroad or families being supported remotely. For commercial banking, we can link clients to opportunities outside the Philippines (where HSBC has a presence) and facilitate seamless banking transactions from there,” he added.

Uppal stressed: “Internationalism is at the core of who we are. We support our client’s businesses to realize international growth ambitions through our expertise and connect them to a world of opportunities through our global network and international business solutions.”

It all started in Binondo, Manila, where businesses flourished under the Spanish-led government, with major British and American trade houses exporting vital Philippine products such as hemp, sugar, coconut, coffee, and rice to the world.

HSBC Philippines, completed Manila office interior 1921

The first HSBC branch in Manila was established amid this brisk business environment on Nov. 29, 1875, servicing an elite clientele of tradesmen. The branch was located at 35 Calles Juan Luna on the corner with the Callejou de San Gabriel, a prestigious address in what was then the premier business district.

By the American occupation, HSBC was the official depository of the United States government in the Philippines, advising them of a new system of currency that eventually gave birth to the Philippine Coinage Act of February 1903 and the Philippine Gold Standard Act of 10th October 1903. The bank also started financing vital public infrastructure projects in the country such as the extension of the Manila-Dagupan Railway in 1906, and the development of the local mining industry. 

Five months after the liberation of Manila in March 1945, HSBC helped the Philippines recover its economy by rebuilding and reopening its branch in the city. Always ahead of the times, the bank eventually moved its headquarters from Binondo to the exciting new business district of Makati in 1971. By the 1980s, the bank strategically opened new branches in Binondo, Cebu, Ortigas, and Quezon City.

Moving from the pandemic years, which saw many Filipinos choosing to uncomplicate their lifestyles and moving into digital transactions, HSBC once more quickly responded to the needs of its customers.

“We simplified our retail banking business in the Philippines to improve customer experience and broaden our service offerings. This move just makes sense as customers can now avail of the bank’s products and services easily and not worry whether their accounts are with the main or savings bank,” said Uppal, explaining the bank’s recent move out of the thrift-banking business.

Sandeep Uppal, President and CEO, HSBC Philippines

“There’s also the shift of doing banking transactions digitally, giving clients the ability to access their accounts whenever and wherever. Hence, this lessens the need to have physical branches. This development makes HSBC Philippines more competitive, flexible, and efficient to better meet the evolving needs of our customers and positioning the business for long-term sustainable growth,” he stressed.

HSBC Philippines’ head office is now at the Bonifacio Global City, again growing with the times and the rise of the dynamic business community in Taguig and the country. Uppal, who describes himself as a “global nomad” for his immense experience in international banking, is the perfect leader to oversee the bank’s Philippine operations.

“My fruitful career in the company has brought me to Hong Kong, India, Mauritius, the Philippines, and the United Kingdom. I have had the opportunity to hold senior positions in all aspects of banking and until now, I am still much fascinated with the world of finance, perpetually learning as the industry continues to evolve,” he shared.

Uppal added, “Having worked with the company for 30 years, I see HSBC as like a person to me and not a corporate entity. It is an organization that is very fair, transparent, and consistent, which can be seen throughout its history.”

Having worked and lived in the Philippines for almost two years since his appointment, Uppal has also learned continuously from the bank’s wide range of clientele, whether they be retail customers who use credit cards and personal wealth management products, international investors, and wholesale customers into project, trade, and debt financing.

“I think most Filipinos are generally very conservative in the way they invest and spend their money. This is good, however, there are opportunities out there that they can take on and make their money grow. They just have to talk to the right people and deal with the right banking partner. Being one of the leading international full-service banks in the Philippines, we can very well help with this,” he explained.

As the bank celebrates its 148th anniversary in the country, the bank may be very old, but Uppal underscored, it is definitely not out of touch with the rapid developments in international finance and technology. “It has kept up with the times, whether it’s in the adoption of technology or in our ambition to make our operations sustainable.”

With the Philippines ranking as one of the higher-growth economies post-pandemic in Asia, HSBC is optimistic that the country will remain an attractive destination for investments in infrastructure and businesses related to consumption. As such, the bank sees the urgency in continuing to support the needs of the country.

“We have been actively participating and supporting the government economic managers’ trade missions abroad and promoting the Philippines as an attractive investment destination. We have also established a partnership with the Philippine government as book runner for its international bond issuances,” Uppal added.

“Moving forward, we aim to support the country in its nation-building efforts, by being part of public-private partnership (PPP) projects related to infrastructure and sustainable (green) development,” he said.

Despite projections of a stagnating global economy, the Philippines appears to be bucking that trend with a surprising 5.9% expansion in its gross domestic product in the third quarter of 2023, versus 4.7% in the same period last year. Analysts see the country on its way to becoming the fastest-growing economy in Southeast Asia.

“Clearly, the Philippines has three ‘Gs’: A growing economy, growing population, and growing trade liberalization—all these make the country an attractive investment destination for anything linked to consumption and infrastructure development. We see much optimism in the Philippine economy as well as our franchise here in the Philippines,” said Uppal.

“Whatever we are doing now with regards to our operations—in choosing the clients we support and upskilling our employees—prepares us to be the bank that fits the future. We can’t do much about external factors and challenges, but what we are making sure of is that we continuously support our clients depending on whatever situation we are in,” he stressed.

Then and now, HSBC Philippines continues to thrive in the country, relying on its DNA of investing and supporting the needs of its clients. Uppal shared his vision for the bank as he oversees the shifting business environment and personal requirements of their clients.

“We have been here for 148 years, and we look forward to continue supporting our customers for centuries more," Uppal said. "We stand ready to support them on their transition journeys, and to provide them with the right digital solutions to capture the opportunities in the region’s fast-growing digital economy. It is our ambition to be known as not only a leading international bank, but also an institution that’s well respected by all our stakeholders.”

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Editor’s Note: This article was provided by HSBC.