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HSBC sees rise in delinquencies as mortgage holders struggle

HSBC Bank Bermuda Ltd has seen an increase in the number of delinquencies on mortgages as homeowners struggle to keep up with payments during the economic downturn, according to the bank's CEO Philip Butterfield.

Mr Butterfield, who marked 10 years at the helm of the bank in June, was speaking in an exclusive interview with

The Royal Gazette, in which he reflected on his tenure and overseeing the transition from the Bank of Bermuda to HSBC during his time in charge.

He said that due to the current economic climate the bank was having a lot more talks with customers who have been finding it difficult or were going to have trouble meeting the obligations on their mortgage.

But he added that the bank was keen to support its clients and work out a solution, particularly in light of the rise in the number of delinquencies as a result of the downturn, and overall maintained a strong mortgage book with a good loan to value ratio.

“We are not in the business of causing people to be displaced from their principal residences,” he said.

Mr Butterfield gave an interview with deputy CEO Richard Moseley and chief financial officer Michael Schrum after the bank received the Bank of the Year Award for Bermuda at The Banker 11th Bank of the Year Awards 2010 held in London on Thursday evening. It is the fourth consecutive year the bank has won the accolade.

Mr Butterfield said he was delighted to have won the Bank of the Year award for a fourth successive year. He said it showed the momentum the business had established and was recognition of the way it had changed the model of banking on the Island through its new Harbourview Centre building and new and improved services.

In October, the bank was also given a rating of AA- and stable outlook from Standard & Poor's (S&P) ratings agency.

Mr Butterfield said the S&P rating affirmed HSBC Bermuda's status as the best rated bank in the country and the strategy it had adopted.

Mr Schrum said that the bank's clients regarded the rating as testament to its value as a safe counterpart, as well as reflecting its strength and quality of capital and the momentum gained across its lines of business. Mr Moseley pointed to the success of HSBC Bermuda's Premier banking service and the launch of its new Advance product, which helps customers better manage their finances, allied to its philosophy of being ‘The World's Local Bank' which had been borne out in the rating.

“We are moving to the next generation of banking from transactional to relationship and training our people,” he said.

“The more we invest in our people the more our customers and indeed our staff appreciate it.”

Mr Butterfield said that 50 percent of his staff were working towards an accreditation in order to improve their skills and knowledge and thus benefit their clients, most notably the relationship management team who had decided to study as a team to attain their Certified Financial Planner designation.

“They realised that they can get more done working together than they can on their own,” he said.

The bank's financial results for 2010 are set to be released in early March and Mr Schrum is anticipating another strong performance showing the resilience of its balance sheet and Bermuda's economy as a whole.

Mr Butterfield, who joined the bank in 2000, admitted that his 10 years at the helm had gone by quicker than he would have imagined and he was just pleased to have worked with a good team in addition to being the driving force behind its progress and transition, particularly since February 2004, into a stronger and better linked local and global entity, as well as affording his employees the opportunity to develop professionally within the group.

One of his most significant milestones was leading the move of HSBC Bermuda's customer-facing services to the new Harbourview Centre, which now houses more than 400 staff.

He said that as the bank and its practices have evolved so the employees have adapted to the change, while the banking halls and assistants on hand to address enquiries had been well-received by the public.

The next step, said Mr Butterfield, was for a greater utilisation of the building by the community, particularly on the sixth floor, and to continue to attract new business with the throughput of traffic from the Front Street and Reid Street entrances.

“According to a survey that was done, 78 percent of our clients identify us as their primary bank, which is huge transition from several years ago,” he said.

“And the best compliment I received was from a Bermuda resident from across the harbour who said that the new building looked like it was always there.”

Mr Butterfield said the bulk of the efficiencies made in downsizing the bank's workforce were behind it now, but that it would continue to look for new opportunities to streamline and make itself smarter.

Welcoming the new administration, he said it was his hope that Government would be receptive to the interests of both the international and local business community and keep up the early dialogue it had established with industry, as well as supporting one another.

But Mr Butterfield foresees another year or more of economic difficulty globally, with Bermuda lagging nine to 12 months behind the US, combined with continued low interest rates, and urged a note of caution going forward.

“You will see us function very cautiously over the next period, but we will certainly be able to respond to opportunity as it presents itself,” he said.

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Published December 06, 2010 at 1:00 am (Updated December 09, 2010 at 2:33 pm)

HSBC sees rise in delinquencies as mortgage holders struggle

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