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Report: HSBC CFO seen as likely candidate to succeed Flint as CEO

HSBC Holdings PLC CFO Ewen Stevenson is seen as a likely candidate to rise up to become the group's new chief due to his direct head-on approach, Bloomberg News reported.

The bank is looking for a replacement for John Flint, who unexpectedly quit Aug. 5, just 18 months after he took over the post. It is believed that the board lost confidence in Flint and his approach and preferred a more aggressive strategy amid what Chairman Mark Tucker described as a "challenging global environment."

Stevenson's direct approach has earned him the moniker "internal activist" from staff, an insider told Bloomberg. He has reportedly encouraged employees to cut costs whenever possible and has opted out of some benefits that come with his post, including first-class flights.

However, cost-cutting is not the only matter the bank's next chief is going to face. The next CEO would also have to deal with trade tensions, sluggish profits in the U.S., Brexit and concerns about China, among others, analysts told S&P Global Market Intelligence. The bank is also expected to miss its 2020 return on tangible equity target of 11%, with an analysts' estimate of a 9.8% ROTE by that year, according to Bloomberg.

Although HSBC's profits in recent years remained solid compared with its European peers, its shares have fallen behind in benchmark indexes in both London and Hong Kong, Bloomberg reported.

Stevenson has only been CFO of HSBC since January, after holding the same post at Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC.

In light of Flint's resignation, HSBC named Noel Quinn, head of global commercial banking, as interim CEO. The bank said it would consider internal or external hires for Flint's successor.

HSBC posted a year-over-year increase in first-half attributable profit, to $8.51 billion from $7.17 billion, and announced a share buyback program of up to $1 billion.