By Sumeet Chatterjee
HONG KONG (Reuters) - HSBC Holdings PLC plans to add more than a 1,000 jobs this year at its technology development centres in China, as the Asia-focused lender seeks to bolster its presence in the world's second largest economy.
Europe's biggest bank by assets will boost headcount at its technology centres in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Xi'an by 14% from a current 7,000-strong workforce, said HSBC Chief Information Officer Darryl West.
In recent years the London-based bank has spent $3 billion annually on its group technology operations which employ 40,000 people worldwide, and West said annual investments of $3-$3.5 billion are planned over the next few years.
Many global banks set up low-cost hubs in China and India more than a decade ago to maintain their complex worldwide information technology networks, but these centres have now become a core part of their operations.
The centres develop and implement risk and fraud management technologies, as well as digital applications that make it easier for banks to attract customers and deliver faster and more secure services.
HSBC's expansion plan in China, a key market for the bank, comes amid growing use of technology in the financial sector - from payments to transactions.
At stake is a bigger share of the billions of dollars worth of retail and corporate banking business in a major financial market with a growing customer base.
"There is a lot more we can do with technology in mainland China. The level of technology adoption and innovation in China is way ahead of other markets," West told reporters during a tour of HSBC's technology centre in the southern city of Guangzhou last week.
"We see mainland China as a tremendous source of talent, not just for the local market but our technology operations globally. We are hiring very aggressively here," he added.
About 30% of the work done at the Guangzhou centre, the largest HSBC tech facility in China with more than 5,000 employees, is for the mainland market and that share is expected to grow over the next couple of years.
HSBC is also using China-based tech centres to develop banking products for its global network, such as the bank's U.K. mobile app which was developed in the northwestern city of Xi'an.
Outside China, HSBC employs more than 10,000 people at technology centres in India, with the rest in countries such as Britain, Canada, Hong Kong and the United States.
HSBC has in recent years lifted investment in China, including the prosperous southern Pearl River Delta region. Mainland China and Hong Kong together accounted for nearly 40% of the bank's revenue in 2018.
The bank will invest $15-$17 billion in the next three years in areas including technology and China, its Chief Executive John Flint said last year.
The limited physical presence of foreign banks in China compared to dominant domestic rivals has been a challenge.
HSBC's losses in retail banking and wealth management (RBWM) in mainland China widened to $200 million last year from $44 million in 2017. The bank aimed to reverse that with its investments in technology.
"Things like that, we see as very important for the next phase of our business growth ... once the major investments have gone in, RBWM will grow bigger and also profitable," said HSBC Greater China Chief Executive Helen Wong.
(Reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee; editing by Darren Schuettler)