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Exclusive-HSBC exceeds China wealth hiring targets, explores India private banking re-entry

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November 9, 2021

By Anshuman Daga

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – HSBC Holdings Plc is ahead of its hiring targets for its Chinese retail wealth management business and is exploring re-entering India’s private banking business, senior executives said, as part of its plan to make Asia and wealth key pillars of growth.

Under a strategy spearheaded by Group CEO Noel Quinn, HSBC is ploughing $3.5 billion into its wealth and personal banking business, in line with its ambition to become Asia’s top wealth manager by 2025.

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“We are the leading international bank in China, so we want to squeeze that opportunity,” said CEO of Wealth and Personal Banking Nuno Matos, one of four top executives moving to Hong Kong from London this year as part of the bank’s regional pivot.

“On the private banking side, we are now in clear expansion mode,” Matos told Reuters in one of his first interviews since moving to the region.

Asia is the biggest region for HSBC, and the wealth and personal banking unit contributed 44% or $22 billion to London-headquartered HSBC’s adjusted global revenue last year.

The bank is looking to boost its mobile wealth planning service, HSBC Pinnacle, in China by having about 700 personal wealth planners by the year-end instead of the 550 originally planned, Matos said.

HSBC’s wealth management services include investments, insurance and asset management products, while private banking caters to the needs of those with investible assets of $5 million or more.

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The bank had 20 people operating in China onshore private banking business at the end of last year, said Siew Meng Tan, head of HSBC Private Banking for Asia Pacific.

“By the end of this year, we will get to 64 and by the end of next year, we’ll double that,” she said.

HSBC is exploring whether to re-enter onshore private banking in India, where the ranks of the super rich are growing fast and record high stock markets have created a string of billion dollar start-ups.

HSBC exited the Indian private banking business in 2015 as part of a group strategy. The lucrative but very competitive Indian market has few foreign players.

“We want to bank mass affluent and high net worth customers. At this moment, the two major pillars we are expanding in India are insurance and asset management,” Matos said. “On the private banking side, we are not there yet and that’s something that demands a strategic decision this year.”

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Currently, HSBC is focusing on catering to wealthy Indians from its global hubs in Singapore, London and the Middle East.

‘COMPELLING OPPORTUNITY’

HSBC is also looking to bulk up its Singapore and Southeast Asia presence, Matos said. In August, the bank bought French insurer AXA’s Singapore assets for $575 million.

Though HSBC has a dominant Asia presence with its retail banking, particularly in the financial hub of Hong Kong, global leaders such as UBS and Credit Suisse rule the market for wealthier clients.

Global wealth managers remain bullish about their growth prospects in China despite an unprecedented regulatory crackdown in the world’s second-largest economy.

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In a global wealth report published in June, Boston Consulting Group said Asia’s wealth management revenue pools will soar faster than any other market worldwide, nearly doubling over the next five years to $52 billion.

“Asian wealth is expanding twice as fast as the rest of the world. This is a compelling opportunity for us,” said Matos, who took charge of HSBC’s newly combined division in February.

“I’m not going to re-do now our goals but what I can say is that in 2021, we will over-deliver our goals on the wealth side,” he said.

After announcing plans last year to buy out its life insurance joint venture partner in China, HSBC is also keen to gain full control of its asset management company in the country, Matos said.

(Reporting by Anshuman Daga; Editing by Sumeet Chatterjee and Lincoln Feast.)

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Amazon asks India antitrust body to revoke Reliance-Future deal approval

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November 28, 2021

By Aditya Kalra and Abhirup Roy

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Amazon has asked India’s antitrust regulator to revoke its approval for Future Retail’s $3.4 billion sale of retail assets to Reliance, saying it was “illegally obtained”, violating an order suspending the deal, a letter seen by Reuters shows.

The approval for the deal was a “nullity in the eyes of law” as an arbitrator’s order was still in force, according to the letter sent by Amazon.com Inc to the Competition Commission of India (CCI) last week.

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The battle between two of the world’s richest men, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Reliance Industries Ltd boss Mukesh Ambani, marks a contest for preeminence in India’s booming, nearly trillion-dollar retail market.

The winner in the fight for Future Retail Ltd, India’s second-largest retailer and Amazon’s estranged local partner, will get pole position in the race to meet the daily needs of more than a billion people.

The CCI, Amazon, Future Group and Reliance did not respond to requests for comment.

Future has said the arbitrator’s suspension order was invalid but Indian courts have declined to overturn it.

If the regulator agrees with the previously unreported letter, it would be a major setback for oil-to-telecom conglomerate Reliance.

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Amazon won an injunction against the deal from a Singapore arbitrator last year, alleging Future had violated contracts that prevented it from selling the assets to entities including Reliance.

But the CCI later cleared the deal.

Future misled the CCI and continued to seek approval for the deal, Amazon said in the letter dated Wednesday, calling the injunction a “brazen attempt to subvert the rule of law”.

Amazon asked for a personal hearing from the CCI to make its case.

The letter comes as Amazon is also battling allegations that it misrepresented facts and concealed information while seeking antitrust clearance for a 2019 deal with Future Group.

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Amazon has so far successfully used this deal’s contracts to block Future’s deal with Reliance.

(Reporting by Aditya Kalra and Abhirup Roy in New Delhi; Additional reporting by Zeba Siddiqui; Editing by William Mallard)

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Exclusive-Visa complains to U.S. govt about India backing for local rival RuPay

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November 28, 2021

By Aditya Kalra

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Visa Inc has complained to the U.S. government that India’s “informal and formal” promotion of domestic payments rival RuPay hurts the U.S. giant in a key market, memos seen by Reuters show.

In public Visa has downplayed concerns about the rise of RuPay, which has been supported by public lobbying from Prime Minister Narendra Modi that has included likening the use of local cards to national service.

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But U.S. government memos show Visa raised concerns about a “level playing field” in India during an Aug. 9 meeting between U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai and company executives, including CEO Alfred Kelly.

Mastercard Inc has raised similar concerns privately with the USTR. Reuters reported in 2018 that the company had lodged a protest https://reut.rs/3cQA2La with the USTR that Modi was using nationalism to promote the local network.

“Visa remains concerned about India’s informal and formal policies that appear to favour the business of National Payments Corporation of India” (NPCI), the non-profit that runs RuPay, “over other domestic and foreign electronic payments companies,” said a USTR memo prepared for Tai ahead of the meeting.

Visa, USTR, Modi’s office and the NPCI did not respond to requests for comment.

Modi has promoted homegrown RuPay for years, posing a challenge to Visa and Mastercard in the fast-growing payments market. RuPay accounted for 63% of India’s 952 million debit and credit cards as of November 2020, according to the most recent regulatory data on the company, up from just 15% in 2017.

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Publicly, Kelly said in May that for years there was “a lot of concern” that the likes of RuPay could be “potentially problematic” for Visa, but he stressed that his company remained India’s market leader.

“That’s going to be something we’re going to continually deal with and have dealt with for years. So there’s nothing new there,” he told an industry event.

‘NOT SO SUBTLE PRESSURE’

Modi, in a 2018 speech, portrayed the use of RuPay as patriotic, saying that since “everyone cannot go to the border to protect the country, we can use RuPay card to serve the nation.”

When Visa raised its concerns during the USTR gathering on Aug. 9, it cited the Indian leader’s “speech where he basically called on India to use RuPay as a show of service to the country,” according to an email U.S. officials exchanged on the meeting’s readout.

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Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said last year that “RuPay is the only card” banks should promote. The government has also promoted a RuPay-based card for public transportation payments.

While RuPay dominates the number of cards in India, most transactions still go through Visa and Mastercard as most RuPay cards were simply issued by banks under Modi’s financial inclusion programme, industry sources say.

Visa told the U.S. government it was concerned India’s “push to use transit cards linked to RuPay” and “the not so subtle pressure on banks to issue” RuPay cards, the USTR email showed.

Mastercard and Visa count India as a key growth market, but have been jolted by a 2018 central bank directive for them to store payments data “only in India” for “unfettered supervisory access”.

Mastercard faces an indefinite ban on issuing new cards in India after the central bank said it was not complying with the 2018 rules. A USTR official privately called the Mastercard ban “draconian”, Reuters reported in September.

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(Reporting by Aditya Kalra in New Delhi; Editing by William Mallard)

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‘Flash mob’ thieves target U.S. retail stores on Black Friday

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November 28, 2021

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Black Friday shoppers weren’t the only ones out hunting for bargains on the day after Thanksgiving. Thieves were busy as well.

Police in Los Angeles and cities elsewhere across the country spent much of their holiday weekend patrols looking for suspects in a spate of “flash mob” robberies on Friday, part of a surging U.S. crime trend in which groups of thieves swarm a store, ransack the shelves and flee.

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Authorities also have used the term “smash-and-grab” to describe the trend.

At least two such robberies were reported on Saturday by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. A local television station, KCAL-TV, counted a total of six smash-and-grab heists on the city’s west side alone on Friday.

In one incident, a group of eight men entered a Home Depot outlet at a shopping mall in Lakewood, south of downtown Los Angeles, walked directly to the tool aisle and snatched a bunch of hammers, sledgehammers and crowbars valued at about $400 before making their getaway, the sheriff’s office said.

According to L.A. television station KTTV, the Home Depot robbery on Friday night involved up to 20 suspects who pulled up to the store in as many as 10 cars and donned ski masks before raiding the tool aisle.

“We tried to stop them,” store employee Luis Romo told KTTV. “We closed the front entrance, and they put their sledgehammers up and whoever got in the way, they were going to hurt them.”

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The Los Angeles City News Service said four suspects in that robbery were arrested on Saturday by Beverly Hills police.

In a similar incident Friday afternoon, a group of 10 men or more invaded a store in the city’s Fairfax district and started grabbing merchandise without paying for it, pushing employees out of the way before fleeing the scene, according to LAPD.

Police are investigating possible ties between that incident and a flurry of other robberies and retail thefts on Friday and earlier in the week, including two smash-and-grabs reported on Wednesday, an LAPD spokesperson said.

The rash of retail crime prompted the LAPD to place its officers on a citywide tactical alert on Friday afternoon.

Mass robberies also were reported on Friday at two Best Buy electronics stores in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, one of them involving as many as 30 suspects, while a spree of pre-dawn retail burglaries were under investigation in Chicago.

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In one of the biggest flash-mob robberies reported on the West Coast in recent days, police in the San Francisco suburb of Walnut Creek were seeking about 80 suspects who swarmed and ransacked a department store last Saturday.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Paul Simao)

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