HSBC battles entrenched locals, past mistakes in U.S. credit card push

LONDON (Reuters) - HSBC’s push into credit cards and personal loans in the United States will be no easy task as the bank faces entrenched domestic rivals and the legacy of a previous disastrous foray into U.S. lending.

HSBC bank is pictured in Geneva, Switzerland, November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The move by HSBC to embrace a riskier but more lucrative slice of the U.S. market, that it has largely shunned in recent years, is part of its broader strategy announced on Monday to improve profitability - eyeing a global return on equity of 11 percent by 2020.

The bank’s U.S. return on tangible equity, a key measure of profitability, is currently just 0.9 percent.

HSBC has just 0.1 percent of the credit card market in the U.S., according to data from RFi Group provided to Reuters, compared with 16 percent and 15 percent for market leaders Bank of America BAC.N and JPMorgan JPM.N.

HSBC’s plan is to sign up more of its existing customers for credit, as well as enticing new ones with cards that offer low fees or attractive cashback rates, according to Marcos Meneguzzi, head of cards and unsecured lending for HSBC in the U.S.

Europe’s biggest bank will also be trying to sign up U.S. customers who are likely to have multiple cards already.

“It’s a good time to be in the U.S. card market, notwithstanding the competition is fierce,” said David Robertson, publisher of the influential Nilson report on the U.S. credit card market, citing low default levels and the growing economy.

“The question is whether you can convince your customer who already has a Capital One Card, and an America Express card and likely a couple of others, that they need yet one more.”

(For a graphic on HSBC's U.S. market share click

HSBC’s target for the U.S. is to improve returns to over six percent by 2020.

HSBC’s underperformance in the U.S, where it is a relative minnow in contrast to its strong position in Europe and Asia, is partly a legacy of its disastrous foray into subprime lending in the country when it bought consumer lender Household in 2003.

That deal saw the bank heavily exposed to the imploding U.S. subprime mortgage market as the 2007-8 crisis hit, costing the bank billions of dollars in writedowns and lawsuits and dampening its appetite in the world’s biggest economy for a decade.

HSBC will this time focus on less risky borrowers that it knows more about, its executives said.

“We are focusing on prime customers who are engaging with the HSBC brand and eventually might be interested in building a broader relationship with us,” said Pablo Sanchez, head of retail banking and wealth management U.S. at HSBC.

Reporting By Lawrence White; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle