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The inspiration behind the founding of the bank was Thomas Sutherland, a Scot who was then working for the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. He realised that there was considerable demand for local banking facilities in Hong Kong and on the China coast, and he helped to establish the bank which opened in Hong Kong in March 1865 and in Shanghai a month later.
Soon after its formation, the bank began opening branches to expand the services it could offer customers. Although that network reached as far as Europe and North America, the emphasis was on building up representation in China and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region. HSBC was a pioneer of modern banking practices in a number of countries – for instance, in 1888 it was the first bank to be established in Thailand, where it printed the country's first banknotes.
Challenges and change
The 20th century saw challenges and change for HSBC. In the early years of the 20th century, HSBC widened the scope of its activities in the East. It became increasingly involved in the issuing of loans to national governments, especially in China, to finance modernisation and internal infrastructure projects such as railway building. The First World War brought disruption and dislocation to many businesses, but the 1920s saw a return to prosperity in the East as new industries were developed and trade in commodities such as rubber and tin soared. The bank's new head office in Hong Kong (1935) and the new buildings at major branches such as Bangkok (1921), Manila (1922) and Shanghai (1923) reflected this confidence.
Making of the modern HSBC
In the later years of the 20th century HSBC moved from an important regional bank to one of the world's leading financial services organisations. This transition was achieved by a number of steps.
By the late 1970s HSBC's management had conceived the strategy of the 'three-legged stool' with the legs of the stool representing the three markets of the Asia-Pacific region, the USA and the UK. In the 1980s, the purchase of Marine Midland Bank in the USA represented the acquisition of the second leg of the stool. HSBC then sought a similar purchase in the UK. The initial target was the Royal Bank of Scotland but after this acquisition failed, attention turned to Midland Bank and a 14.9 per cent stake was taken in 1987. After creating a new holding company, HSBC Holdings plc in 1991, HSBC then made a recommended offer for full ownership of Midland in July 1992. The third leg was in place. As a result of the formation of the new holding company and the acquisition of Midland Bank, HSBC became headquartered in London.
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