StanChart brings in senior talent to fuel U.S. expansion

NEW YORK/HONG KONG (Reuters) - Standard Chartered aims to expand its U.S. presence with a local hiring push and by bolstering its team in the country with senior staff from its main regions of Asia, the Middle East and Africa, its top bankers said.

Torry Berntsen, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Head of Corporate and Institutional Banking of the Americas region for Standard Chartered Bank, poses in New York City, U.S., June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The world’s top economy contributed $661 million (518.6 million pounds) to Standard Chartered’s operating income in 2016, or 5 percent of the total, making it the smallest of its major markets - Hong Kong, China, India, and the United Arab Emirates.

“We really view the Americas as a growth area. When I say that, we are not looking to be JPMorgan or BAML (Bank of America Merrill Lynch) or Wells Fargo,” StanChart’s Americas CEO Torry Berntsen told Reuters at the bank’s New York office.

“We think we have a special calling card in terms of what our network looks like.”

The plan is to offer StanChart’s trade finance, transaction banking, cash management and forex market products to large U.S. firms, senior bankers said.

This push comes about five years after StanChart reached a $340 million settlement with U.S. authorities over transactions linked to Iran. The bank is due to stay under supervision until end-2017, although there are concerns this could be extended.

Higher interest rates, healthy corporate loan growth, and hopes President Donald Trump’s lower taxes and plans for lighter financial regulation would boost banking sector growth provide the right backdrop for expansion.

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“It’s more of a new focus and it is as a result of Bill and Simon coming in ... We think it is a great growth prospect for the bank,” said Berntsen, referring to CEO Bill Winters and former HSBC banker Simon Cooper who joined last year as chief of corporate and institutional banking, the bank’s largest unit.

Since joining, Cooper has made changes to turn around the bank that had been hit by losses from bad debts and slowing economic growth in its major markets, including hiring senior external bankers like Berntsen, who came on board in October.

StanChart posted its first annual loss in 26 years in 2015.

Cooper has also expanded industrial sector coverage and streamlined the bank’s mammoth workforce to get a bigger share of the traditional banking businesses.

In the last few months, StanChart’s senior external hires in the United States included former Morgan Stanley banker Jens Andersen, who has joined the bank as head of its financial markets and trading forex in the Americas.

Internally, it has relocated global head of financial firms Jeremy Amias from Hong Kong as co-head of global banking for Americas, and Singapore-based head of transaction banking for banks Anurag Bajaj as head of transaction banking in Americas.

StanChart has traditionally been focused on helping its clients based in Asia, Africa and the Middle East to do business in the United States. It still makes most of its profit in Asia, but is now looking at the other side.

The bank’s U.S. assets were at $47.6 billion at the end of 2016, accounting for 7 percent of its total, versus 21 percent in Hong Kong and 13 percent in Singapore.

“We’re not trying to conquer the U.S. market,” CFO Andy Halford told Reuters in a interview in April.

“We’re saying for those businesses in the U.S. who have or might have interest in the emerging markets but have never heard of us, we should be making ourselves more visible.”

Reporting by Carmel Crimmins, Sumeet Chatterjee and Lawrence White; Editing by Clara Ferreira-Marques and Himani Sarkar