Investing in futures at Birkbeck and beyond 

Recently retired after 34 successful years with HSBC, which included the chance to lead its European Commercial Banking operations and be part of a number of key transformation projects across the bank, John Casey (BSc Financial Economics, 1998) talks to us about his own success in business and the ways in which he is supporting others to realise their goals – including Birkbeck students. 

At 18 years old, everyone expected him to go to university, but John felt he was ready for the world of work. Encouraged by his school’s careers advisor to apply for entry-level positions at various banks, on the back of strong A-levels in mathematics and sciences, John was offered a position with Midland Bank (which later became HSBC). One decade later, during his first appointment as a branch manager in Tottenham Court Road, HSBC gave John another chance at higher education – by sponsoring him to study at Birkbeck.   

Having already completed his professional Chartered Banking qualification, John contributed a practical perspective to his lively, diverse classrooms which, he recalls, “brought different ideas and concepts to what you would normally find in a workplace environment. I had already started to touch upon many of the concepts we studied  such as pricing models, bonds and yields  at work. This all proved incredibly useful throughout my career: after all, who doesn’t love a good net asset value calculation?!”  

Fifteen years (and many calculations) after graduating from Birkbeck, John was appointed as HSBC’s Head of Commercial Banking in Europe. “I loved commercial banking because we got to help so many businesses grow and connect to others,” John recalls. “Starting off as a young individual at thEaling branch of Midland, I would never have thought I would ever get a chance to travel the world to work with, and support, all manner of businesses, from sole traders to quoted companies. Working collaboratively with a diverse range of colleagues and clients, I got to see how economies, countries and cultures evolved and operated.”  

As a leader in the bank, John went on to sponsor HSBC’s talent programme for its Global Commercial Banking arm, helping many aspiring bankers each year to lay the foundations for their own careers; “We made sure they had the right coaches, sponsors and support, so they could eventually be left to run, and mange, their own projects and businesses [within the bank]”. It was this philosophy with which John recently approached Birkbeck’s Mentoring Pathways programme, volunteering to support Birkbeck students to think broadly and independently about their career aspirations.  

Looking back as a proud graduate, volunteer and donor of the College, having retired after 34 years with HSBC, John’s top piece of advice to current students is to make use of the support networks around them. “Alumni are a powerful group if you can make the most of them,” John states. “At HSBC we used a number of universities to educate our people.  Notable names such as Harvard and INSEAD, where the programmes allowed the alumni to develop and drive their own network and support groups. Part of the Birkbeck experience is learning how to grow your own network of people. The importance of those connections can never be underestimated.”