In a surprise announcement, HSBC Private Bank revealed yesterday that it had promoted Bernard Rennell to chief executive officer for North Asia in a new role based in Hong Kong.

Rennell, who will assume the post once the change receives regulatory approval, will come in above Desmond Liu, HSBC Private Bank’s present North Asia head, who will report to Rennell.

It was only a year ago that Liu was being introduced to the market as part of a new regional leadership team on the back of Asia chief executive Monica Wong’s retirement. At that time Liu was named private banking head for North Asia, while Nancie Dupier was appointed head of private banking for Southeast Asia. It came after Liu had been promoted to head of Greater China.

However, yesterday HSBC Private Bank issued a statement to say that Rennell would take over responsibility for all private banking activity across North Asia, which includes Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines. He reports to global CEO of HSBC Private Bank, Krishna Patel.

“North Asia, and particularly Hong Kong, is a key strategic location for the group and [Rennell’s] experience of working with ultra-high-net-worth families and his knowledge of the local market will be important in further building HSBC Private Bank’s strong position in the territory,” Patel was quoted as saying.

Patel had only recently taken over as chief executive of global private banking for HSBC, initially in Geneva. Formerly in charge of HSBC Africa, he took up the mantle in September from Chris Meares, who relocated from London to Hong Kong last year in a move seen as further evidence of the UK institution’s emphasis on Asia. Meares is set to retire at the end of this year.

HSBC Group has been undergoing $3.5 billion of cost cuts under CEO Stuart Gulliver, although emerging markets remain its key priority with a focus on higher growth areas as it strives to find $4 billion in additional revenue, notably from wealthy customers. It has been reported that Patel’s relocation to Geneva is temporary, and a move to Hong Kong remains distinctly possible.

A former securities lawyer, Rennell was head of Bank of Bermuda’s private wealth services based in Hong Kong before the bank was acquired by HSBC. Subsequently he became head of HSBC’s private wealth solutions for Asia before being appointed global head of private wealth solutions in 2009.

HSBC notes in its statement that Rennell has extensive experience in trust, tax and wealth structuring, corporate and family governance, corporate finance and financial markets.

AsianInvestor requested an interview with Rennell, but was told he was unavailable.