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HSBC Bank US CEO sees chance to grow Buffalo operations

HSBC Bank’s top U.S.-based executive said the bank has built a strong workforce in the Buffalo Niagara region, and he sees opportunities for HSBC to keep adding jobs here.

“We have a very skilled employee base up there,” said Patrick Burke, CEO of HSBC Bank USA, in an interview. “We’ve got a very experienced workforce. They really understand what HSBC is all about, many of them having worked for us for decades. And we believe it’s a great environment for us to actually build an additional set of employees into the operations there.”

HSBC is transferring some employees within its U.S. operations, aiming to reduce costs. The bank recently disclosed plans to gradually add jobs here as it moves some work from New York City. HSBC expects its local operations will have a net gain of 150 jobs, as it also eliminates 40 back-office jobs.

HSBC already has about 3,000 employees in the Buffalo Niagara region, between the downtown Atrium building and its leased space in Depew. About one in five of the London-based bank’s U.S. employees is based here, Burke said. They work in areas including commercial, private and corporate banking, and back-office roles for national and global operations.

Burke joined HSBC in 1989 and has served in a variety of roles with the bank. For one of those assignments, he lived in Toronto for three years. He was announced as the new CEO of HSBC Bank USA in June 2014 and took the reins about a year ago.

HSBC is transferring jobs into the Buffalo area at a time of uncertainty in the area’s financial services industry. Cleveland-based KeyCorp plans to acquire Buffalo-based First Niagara Financial Group in a $4.1 billion deal that, if completed, is expected to trigger job cuts in order to eliminate overlap and reduce costs.

There were similar anxieties about HSBC’s prospects here after the bank sold off its upstate branch network and moved out of the downtown tower that bore its name. But the bank has made $35 million worth of renovations to its Atrium and Depew locations, creating an open-space format more suitable to the business, Burke said.

“It allows people to have far more conversations and be connected to each other, and you get more conversations about what’s happening in the business,” he said. “It just helps with morale, I think, to have a really great place to show up and work every day.”

Burke was asked about HSBC’s commitment to the Buffalo Niagara region.

“I think it remains the same long-term commitment we’ve probably had,” Burke said. “I don’t think there’s anything that would really suggest we have any view that would be different than it really has been. If anything, I guess, you would probably see the share of employees, if you will, increase in the Buffalo areas relative to what it is today.”

Even without the street-level visibility of an upstate branch network, HSBC has been able to keep and recruit talent here, Burke said. “They’re in their communities. They’re actively involved in a lot of different aspects, philanthropic things that they do. So in many ways, the branding itself continues to be conducted by the employees.”

Likewise, he said, HSBC has maintained relationships with its upstate commercial clients, particularly those interested in cross-border activity.

“Because they are international, they understand what HSBC is, understand we have (locations) around the world. All of that, without a branch network, to them is not particularly difficult for them to know what to do with us and how to do it,” he said.

Burke said an increasing number of businesses are stepping into international activity to expand the markets for their products and services or to acquire supplies. The United States has by far the most companies engaging in international business, and he said HSBC is well-positioned to support them because of its numerous full-fledged offices in other countries. One example of that: HSBC wants to provide its clients with “seamless service” for banking services across the United States, Canada and Mexico, if they have operations in more than one of those countries.

HSBC’s Buffalo-area workforce ties into the bank’s broader U.S. goals to bolster revenues and control costs, Burke said.

“We need to find a way to become more effective at what we do, more efficient at what we do, and we really think Buffalo is a very attractive place for us to be able to grow and be able to put more of the work, relative to what we do there today,” he said.

And he said Buffalo’s “economic resurgence” has a ripple effect: “I think that just helps to feed everything else. It helps get people interested in banking again. It gets people thinking very much about what they can do in the business community. It makes everybody feel very community-oriented, as well.”