Bank of America has wooed Zhang Wenjie, a former HSBC mainland China executive, to join as a managing director and president of China, the South China Morning Post reported Monday, a departure that comes as HSBC has made the country the cornerstone of its growth strategy.
Zhang was most recently executive vice president, managing director and co-head of global banking at HSBC China. He will also be named Bank of America’s Shanghai branch manager, subject to regulatory approval, the newspaper reported, citing an internal Bank of America memo.
Zhang will be based in Shanghai and report to Wei Wang, Bank of America’s Hong Kong-based China country representative, according to the South China Morning Post. The position he is taking up has not been filled since 2017, when its former holder jumped ship to Standard Chartered, the newspaper said.
Bank of America’s Hong Kong office and HSBC did not immediately respond to requests for comment outside of business hours in Asia.
Zhang’s departure comes as HSBC, which is based in London but draws most of its profits from Asia, is looking to expand its presence in the region.
In June, the bank said it would move forward with plans to eliminate 35,000 jobs as part of a restructuring that would substantially scale back operations in Europe and the United States as it expanded in Asia and the Middle East. The planned reduction was disclosed earlier but postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recently, HSBC’s focus on China has led to the bank finding itself in politicians’ crosshairs in both the West and China.
After Chinese media and political influencers in June took HSBC to task for not publicly backing Beijing’s security law for Hong Kong, which sharply curtails civil liberties known to the semi-autonomous city’s residents, HSBC Asia-Pacific CEO Peter Wong signed a petition supporting the law.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others slammed HSBC for the move, with Pompeo accusing the bank of bowing to “browbeating” by the Chinese Communist Party. HSBC’s “show of fealty seems to have earned HSBC little respect in Beijing, which continues to use the bank’s business in China as political leverage against London,” Pompeo said in a statement on the State Department’s website.
In July, after the U.K. decided to block Chinese telecom Huawei from building its 5G networks, Chinese-run state media accused HSBC of “setting traps to ensnare” Huawei. HSBC publicly refuted claims that it had set Huawei up. The bank had previously warned the U.K. against the ban, saying that it could lead to repercussions for the bank in China.
And in August, Pompeo again criticized HSBC in the wake of reports that it had prevented Hong Kong-based executives at Next Media, a publisher of pro-democracy publications, from accessing their credit cards and personal accounts.
“The bank is thus maintaining accounts for individuals who have been sanctioned for denying freedom for Hong Kongers, while shutting accounts for those seeking freedom,” Pompeo said.
--Additional reporting by Rachel Uda