Paulo Maia, President and CEO, HSBC Bank Canada

Paulo Maia, HSBC Bank Canada | BCBusiness

Globetrotting banker Paulo Maia moved to Vancouver from Australia last fall to take the helm at HSBC Bank Canada. He dishes on Canadian business culture, the rise of the renminbi and joining the billion-dollar club

You came to Vancouver from Australia last fall to take the role of president and CEO of HSBC Bank Canada. Where are you from originally?
I’m Brazilian. I was born in Rio and also lived for many years in São Paolo. This is the fifth country I have worked in, but this is the first time I’ve moved not from [Brazil directly]. Normally I would go back to Brazil after an international assignment, but I spent three and a half years in Sydney, heading up the [HSBC] bank there. Before that I was deputy CEO of the bank in Brazil.

Do you have family and did they move here?
Yes, I brought my wife and my younger daughter, who is 23. She is studying here.

Did you begin your banking career in Brazil?
Yes. I’ve been with HSBC for 20 years now and prior to that I had spent 10 years with an American bank in Brazil. I had been with HSBC four years when it bought a big bank in Brazil in 1997; at that time I was in London and I returned to Brazil. Interestingly enough, a few Canadians from Vancouver went to Brazil at the time of the acquisition and I was the only Brazilian part of that group of 20 or 30 executives.

What are your first impressions of the business culture in Canada? For example, is the decision-making process faster or slower than in other countries?
Generally speaking, it’s faster. There are some similarities with Australia: the governance structure of companies in Canada is quite robust and in Australia it was similar. In Brazil the process may be a bit… complicated [laughs] to get the decision made.

Last year was a time of restructuring at HSBC Bank Canada. You closed your retail brokerage and your consumer finance division. If that was a refocusing effort, where are you focusing now?
Under the leadership of the new group CEO since May 2011, we started a journey of big changes in the group as a whole. Today we have 20 priority growth markets for HSBC, Canada being one of them. That was a big shift for us because we started to look at the parts of our business from a global perspective. So for instance, with our retail banking and wealth management, we decided to look at it more globally, rather than depending on what Paulo, the CEO of Canada, thought would make sense.

In recent years there’s been a lot of money moving between China and Canada. Is that a growth area for HSBC Bank Canada?
We have been involved with Chinese going out of China or from Hong Kong or Taiwan since the first waves, which dates back to probably 1970. And then you have the time of the people concerned with the handover of Hong Kong to China. Since then it’s more the mainland China flow. So we have a history of assisting people when they come to this preferred destination. So it’s been a good business for us.

What measures have you put in place to facilitate the flow of money into and out of China?
One of the key things we are seeing in markets is the internationalization of the Chinese currency. It’s still a closed market, but it’s becoming more international. So we have launched here in Canada and many other markets a suite of products and services in the Chinese currency to allow some companies that trade directly with China to start discussing prices in renminbi [commonly called the yuan] and not only in U.S. dollars.

Is the interest in doing business in renminbi mostly from Canadian companies wanting to do business in China, or vice versa?
So far the interest has been primarily from companies doing business with or in China and a lot of it on the back of the trade flows, or capital flows if they have investments in subsidiaries there. We’ve seen exponential growth in the use of renminbi as a trade currency. This is quite a recent phenomenon because only four years ago people wouldn’t even think about doing international business with the renminbi, but now I think it’s close to 12 per cent of all China trade, which is the largest trading nation in the world. We see that growing possibly to 30 per cent in a couple of years’ time.

Being located in Vancouver, do you find yourself on the outside of the banking industry in Canada?
One person told me that if you want to do business in Vancouver, you’re going to be on the plane a lot. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be based here and use it to your advantage, because in fact I think it’s one of the growing areas of the country. So just to give you an idea, we have part of our team in Toronto—the head of global-banking markets and our head of commercial banking—but then we have our COO and myself and the head of retail banking and wealth management here in Vancouver. Despite the time difference, we talk every day on the phone—we have a short meeting—and we have a more formal meeting weekly where we connect by video. And then once a month the entire executive committee of HSBC Bank Canada connects by video. And I travel at least once a month to Toronto, if not twice.