HSBC names new US compliance chief as tensions loom over Hong Kong sanctions

July 24, 2020.

has elevated a longtime regulatory veteran at the bank to chief compliance officer for U.S. operations, a key role as the federal government threatens to sanction banks seen as helping China crack down on personal freedoms in Hong Kong.

Christine Lowthian, who had been serving in the role on an interim basis since April, was named permanent U.S. chief compliance officer effective Monday, the bank said in an internal memo shared Friday with Fastinform. The promotion was first reported by American Banker. 

Lowthian joined HSBC in 1994 as a global compliance officer for HSBC Futures and has held a number of posts since. Prior to her interim post, Lowthian was head of regulatory compliance in the U.S. for HSBC Bank, according to the memo drafted by Colin Bell, HSBC Group chief compliance officer, and Michael Roberts, president and chief executive of HSBC USA.

“Christine’s wealth of experience in liaising with various regulatory agencies across the globe will be an invaluable asset for us in the U.S. market as we seek to execute the growth strategy within a sustainable and effective risk management framework and enhanced regulatory environment,” the executives said in a joint statement.

Lowthian’s promotion follows months of fiery back-and-forth between the U.S. and Chinese governments over the autonomy of Hong Kong, where London-based HSBC maintained a dominant banking position for years.

Though initially neutral on the matter, the bank last month came out in public support of China’s controversial new security law, which allows extradition of individuals from Hong Kong to mainland China. 

According to Reuters, HSBC and other banks in Hong Kong are going a step further, investigating their clients for ties to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, which fiercely contested the security law.

Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump signed a bill that empowers him to sanction banks and other businesses that help China impose the security law on Hong Kong. 

“Now that the president has signed our Hong Kong Autonomy Act into law, he must impose the sanctions included in our bill. That is the only way to ensure that those involved in the crackdown on Hong Kong will feel the full consequences of their actions,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a Democrat who sponsored the U.S. sanctions bill.