Stan Chart rolls back to 2008 as Asia bears brunt of 15,000 job cuts

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Standard Chartered’s rapid Asian expansion over the past seven years is now suffering an ignominious reversal under plans revealed in its third quarter results today.

Stan Chart, which makes most of its money and employs most of its staff in Asia, boasted a headcount of 70,000 back in 2008 and now employs some 86,000 people. Not for much longer.

Under CEO Bill Winter’s new strategy, an additional 15,000 jobs will be culled on top of the 1,000 senior layoffs announced last month. This effectively takes Stan Chart’s staffing numbers right back to where they were in 2008, wiping out the Asia-driven expansion championed by Winter’s predecessor Peter Sands.

“Stan Chart has been hiring heavily in Asia, especially in Singapore, in recent years, helping to push up salaries and create a war for talent with the likes of Citi and Barclays. These new plans mark the end of this era,” says a recruiter in Singapore who asked to remain anonymous because of client confidentiality.

Meanwhile, Stan Chart staff don’t yet know their fate – the firm has not clarified exactly which jobs will go. “But it’s clear that Asia will bear the brunt of the cuts. A lot of Stan Chart staff here have been looking over their shoulders for months and trying to find new roles – now we’ll be getting even more calls from them,” says the recruiter.

Jobs in the firm's corporate and institutional businesses appear most at risk as it refocuses away from investment banking. “Anyone working in an area related to institutional clients could potentially be in danger,” says a Singapore-based headhunter who works with the bank and also asked not to be named.

Investment bankers may not have longer to wait until the axe swings. Stan Chart needs to act quickly to meet its goal of cutting costs by £1.9bn ($2.9bn) by 2018, but its third quarter results reveal a disappointing pre-tax loss of £91m ($140m). “The absolute decline in revenues, which commenced in 2013, has not been matched by any material reduction in costs,” says an analyst report from Investec.

Still safe?

Some jobs at Stan Chart look comparatively secure. According to the new plans, the firm wants to expand its Asia-focused private banking and wealth management units and is targeting a $25bn growth in assets under management by 2018.

“This means they will need to hire more private bankers in Singapore and Hong Kong – they can’t achieve their aims on their current headcount,” says the headhunter. “We’ve already seen UBS and more recently Credit Suisse refocus on Asian wealth management and now Stan Chart is moving in this direction.”

You can also consider yourself fortunate if you work in compliance. Stan Chart says it will “continue to invest” in your department, having already tripled its regulatory spend – which now stands at US$1bn – over the last three years. Other areas of investment under the strategy announced today include IT, retail banking and offshore RMB.

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