HSBC swoops in to rescue UK arm of Silicon Valley Bank

HSBC has swooped to buy the UK arm of collapsed US Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), bringing relief to UK tech firms who warned they could go bust without help.

Customers and businesses who had been unable to withdraw their money will now be able to access it as normal.

The government and the Bank of England led the talks and worked through the night to scramble together the deal, which involves no taxpayer money.

HSBC said it paid just £1 for the SVB’s UK arm.

Speaking to the BBC, HSBC boss Noel Quinn said the deal had been “too good an opportunity to miss” and had ensured “a crisis in one institution did not become a systemic crisis”.

Silicon Valley Bank – which specialised in lending to technology companies – was shut down by US regulators on Friday in what was the largest failure of a US bank since 2008.

Its collapse sent shockwaves across the tech industry over the possible impact it could have on businesses, with some firms telling the BBC they could go bust if deposits were not secured.

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With fears over how firms would be able to access cash on Monday morning, frantic talks were held between Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, the prime minister, the Bank of England governor, HSBC bosses and civil servants to find a solution.

The Bank of England said no other UK banks had been “materially affected” by SVB’s collapse and said the banking system remained “safe, sound, and well capitalised”.

Although the UK arm of SVB was small with just over 3,000 business customers, its collapse would have presented a risk for a sector which the government views as pivotal to the UK’s future economic success.

Mr Hunt said some of the firms only had bank accounts with SVB UK, “so for that reason we were faced with a situation where we could have seen some of our most important companies, our most strategic companies, wiped out and that would have been extremely dangerous”.

However, he added there was “never a systemic risk to our financial stability in the UK”.

Image caption,
Toby Mather, founder of Lingumi, said he’d had an “anxious weekend”

Toby Mather, chief executive and co-founder of Lingumi, an education technology start-up, said 85% of its cash was tied up with the bank and he had had a very “anxious weekend”.

“We had enough money in bank accounts outside the UK and enough revenue coming through each week from our customers that we could look our staff in the eyes at nine o’clock this morning and say we can make payroll in two weeks, but it would have been very uncertain from then”, Mr Mather said.

Sebastian Weidt, chief executive of Universal Quantum, a tech company which employs about 40 people and held all its funds with SVB, said the deal was a “huge relief” after an “unbelievably stressful” few days.

Although its US parent was in financial trouble, Silicon Valley Bank UK was in reasonable financial health when it was bought for £1 by HSBC.

It had adequate capital and was making reasonable profits. Bank of England sources confirmed this weekend’s intervention was more a preventive strike before the collapse of its US parent sparked mass withdrawals from the UK business.

What that means is that HSBC got one hell of a deal which it owed to its size and strength – with regulators confident that Europe’s largest bank could easily take on any risk from SVB UK’s customers.

It seems the only thing wrong with SVB UK was its name. While not a Lehman Brothers moment, what the collapse of SVB US has highlighted is that many banks are riskier than they look on paper as they have all sustained losses on their investments in government bonds as interest rates have soared – pushing their value down.

One reason why bank shares are lower again on Monday as that thought sinks in with jittery investors.

What went wrong at Silicon Valley Bank?

The rescue deal for the UK arm comes after the US agreed a rescue deal for customers in the US bank, with all depositors fully protected.

SVB specialised in lending to start-up firms, and the company served nearly half of US venture-backed technology and healthcare companies that had listed on stock markets last year.

The firm was under pressure as higher interest rates made it harder for its customers to raise money through private fundraising or share sales. More clients were withdrawing deposits in a trend that snowballed last week.

The bank collapsed in the US on Friday after failing to raise enough money to plug losses from the sale of assets, mainly US government bonds, that were affected by higher rates.

The knock-on impact on SVB’s UK arm sparked fears it could lead to the collapse of many smaller UK tech firms, with more than 200 tech bosses signing a letter calling for the government to step in.

Former investment banker Sir Philip Augar said the UK government and regulators had a “good weekend in actually avoiding a crisis”, but warned there was an irony in the collapse of SVB just as the government was considering “slackening” regulations in the financial services industry.

“It shows that it’s a dangerous industry that can cause damage to the whole economy if it’s not controlled properly,” he said.

“It has the capability of delivering a nasty shock.”

While the deal with HSBC was broadly welcomed, the Bank of London – a UK clearing bank – said it was a “missed opportunity”.

The bank, which was among firms that had put forward a rescue bid for SVB UK, said: “It cannot be right that, once again, the heritage banks that.