Could HSBC relocate its head office from London to Vancouver?

In the face of a proposed bank tax hike and embarrassing financial scandals, U.K.-based HSBC announced Friday (April 24) it was considering pulling up its stakes in London and relocating its head office.

But to where?

While most analysts are placing bets on former head office Hong Kong, Vancouver could be a dark horse contender for some or all of HSBC’s operations, according to the former head of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

“The bank has a very substantial presence in our city, including the CEO and substantial back office operations,” said Yuen Pau Woo.

“The fact that HSBC has a regional head office (HSBC Bank Canada) in Vancouver suggests that we have the attributes to attract (a larger presence).”

Since February, Woo has been serving as the president of HQ Vancouver, a partnership program between the Business Council of B.C., and the federal and provincial governments.

The new initiative is identifying targets and building business cases for corporate relocations from Asia to Vancouver but Woo said many of the same enticements exist for a company relocating from Europe.

“The tax case for relocating to Vancouver is very attractive compared to other North American jurisdictions,” he said.

“When you add in the fact that HSBC and other financial institutions operate across international business activity, that qualifies for tax breaks under what’s called the international business activity program.”

Woo also noted Vancouver’s living environment, connections to some of the fastest growing markets in Asia and its proximity to both the east and west coasts of the U.S. makes the city that much more attractive.

“I’m not saying that the global head office of HSBC will move to Vancouver,” he said. “But the move that is being discussed in London is a reminder that we already have a substantial HSBC presence in Vancouver and this presence could well be enhanced as the parent company looks to reorganize.”

In 2008, Vancouver ranked 33rd among the world’s most desirable financial centres, according to Z/Yen Group’s global financial centres index.

But by the latest report, released in March 2015, the city’s ranking jumped to No. 15.

AdvantageBC president and CEO Colin Hansen, whose non-profit organization promotes B.C. as a favourable location for business location, said he isn’t aware of another city climbing the ranks of the global financial centres index so swiftly.

“As we’ve seen China increasing its economic footprint around the globe, Vancouver is the beneficiary of a lot of that activity,” he said.

“Vancouver’s got some very desirable attributes when it comes to a relocation like that because I think increasingly, Vancouver’s being recognized as a financial services gateway between the Americas and Asia.”