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Former HSBC boss John Flint to run new UK infrastructure bank

UK banks updates

A former HSBC chief executive has been appointed the first head of the UK Infrastructure Bank, a state lender designed to channel billions of pounds into capital projects as part of the government’s “levelling-up” agenda”.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said John Flint, who left HSBC two years ago, would bring “outstanding financial and management expertise” as the fledgling organisation grows.

The Yorkshire-born veteran banker will start working at the infrastructure bank’s headquarters in Leeds from September 27.

Flint joined HSBC as a graduate and worked for the bank for 30 years, eventually rising to chief executive in early 2018. However, he was removed by chair Mark Tucker after 18 months in a disagreement over strategy and the speed of change at Europe’s largest lender.

While at HSBC, Flint placed culture and employee mental health at the centre of his management style, attempting to implement what he called the “healthiest human system”. The drive split opinion among staff, but established him as a chief executive ahead of the curve on changing workplace practices.

The infrastructure bank, which officially began operating in June, is meant to fill the hole left by the UK’s post-Brexit withdrawal from the European Investment Bank, which provided about €8bn a year of cheap debt for projects such as London’s Crossrail and social housing.

It was allocated £22bn by Sunak in his March Budget in a mix of state funding and Treasury loan guarantees. That funding would enable it to “unlock more than £40bn of financing for key projects across the UK”, the Treasury said.

Ministers present the bank’s operations as part of prime minister Boris Johnson’s levelling-up agenda, an attempt to kickstart economic recovery in some of Britain’s poorer towns and regions.

The new bank, which will eventually employ several hundred staff, also has a key role in helping the UK to reach its pledge to reach “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050, a commitment requiring a major overhaul of energy, transport and housing.

The new lender will co-invest alongside private investors through a mix of loans and guarantees, while also taking equity stakes in projects. Its remit is to accelerate investment in infrastructure in sectors including clean energy, transport, digital, water and waste.

Sunak described Flint’s appointment as an “important milestone” for the new organisation. “Mr Flint brings outstanding financial and management expertise which will be crucial to leading the organisation as it grows its operations and starts to deliver on its mission to finance projects in every region of the UK,” he said.

Flint has not held a full-time role since August 2019, but does sit on a review panel examining the UK bank ringfencing law, which requires the formal separation of lenders’ retail and investment banking operations. It is expected to host public debates on the results of its consultation next month and report its recommendations to the Treasury in February.

The law has been criticised by an unusual alliance of smaller high street lenders, which say it has unfairly boosted competition in the mortgage market, and US investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, which are prevented from growing their new digital-only UK lenders above the current £25bn threshold.

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