BRAIN FOOD: Sir William Purves - If I had to start again...

I would like to have been a farmer in the lowlands of Scotland as my father had been.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I would like to have been a farmer in the lowlands of Scotland as my father had been. I love the countryside and fresh air. This is a far cry from my banking career, which started in 1948 when I became an apprentice in a country branch in what was then the National Bank of Scotland. Today, to have any chance of reaching the higher echelons of a bank, I would have had to go to university and gain a reasonably good degree.

National Service opened my eyes to a much bigger world and gave me the confidence to venture forth. Even with that experience, I might well have remained in the UK if my employer had paid me sufficient to cover my digs on transfer to head office in Edinburgh (even in 1953, £245 per annum did not do that), trying to work my way up. I would then have missed a marvellous career, which kept me in Asia for almost 40 years. That time - in varied countries but much of it in Hong Kong - brought me in touch with thousands of interesting and outstanding people at a time when the economies of many countries were expanding rapidly. It allowed me to explore many corners of the world, participate in local government and gave me an insight into the world of horse racing, among other things.

But would I be happy in banking today? I think not! The ever-increasing burden of regulation and the introduction of government direction, at least in the UK, has removed much of the satisfaction of doing a good job for customers, colleagues and shareholders - and much of the fun.

I have experienced happier conditions, and I am glad that my 50 years of banking were in the 20th century rather than today.

Sir William Purves was chairman of HSBC 1990-98 and previously chairman and CEO of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp.

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