International Business

Pair celebrate half a century at HSBC

  • Loyal employees: Sharon Jacobs and Lynette Smith have each worked at HSBC for 50 years (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
  • Meeting the boss: Lynette Smith and HSBC CEO John Flint (Photograph supplied)
  • Former HSBC Group general manager Bruce Fletcher with Sharon Jacobs (Photograph supplied)

When Sharon Jacobs and Lynette Smith started at HSBC Bermuda they never imagined they’d spend the next 50 years there.

“I was just excited to have my first job,” Ms Smith said.

The year was 1968. The company was still known as the Bank of Bermuda, high tech meant manual typewriters, and Bermuda’s currency was pounds sterling.

“We had no technology,” Ms Smith said. “We had to do everything by hand or in our heads. I can remember having to manually convert all the ledgers to decimals when the Bermuda dollar was introduced in 1970.”

Ms Smith is in global trade and receivables finance client management. Ms Jacobs is sales service officer at the front desk in the Premier Division.

They received standing ovations at the company’s long service awards held last month.

In recognition of her long service, Ms Smith received a five-day trip to HSBC headquarters in Canary Wharf, London to meet HSBC Global CEO John Flint.

“It was easy to be in his presence,” Ms Smith said.

But she seemed more excited at the chance she had to give a talk in front of employees there.

“When I walked in there they acted like I was a celebrity,” she said. “They asked me to speak to a group of management trainees who all happened to be female. It wasn’t anything planned, but because I have a passion for what I do, it came over that way. I told them a lot of it depends on them.

“It is about self discipline and perseverance. That will determine your level of success. They thanked me so much. When I was leaving, this young lady came running after me and said, ‘I enjoyed your presentation’.”

Ms Jacobs’s department celebrated on island with a number of activities that included her family. She also got to sit down with Bruce Fletcher, former HSBC Group general manager and global chief risk officer, when he visited Bermuda last year. He is now at the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Ms Smith confessed she almost left HSBC after two years as a clerk, when another company offered her an extra £2 a week.

“That was a lot of money back then,” she said. Her salary was ?£18 a week.

But her boss, Frederick C Bailey, told her mother she’d be making a mistake if she left. “He was so right!” she said.

It was a time of great change in Bermuda. The bank was still regarded as a largely white institution, but was beginning to open up to black Bermudians.

Ms Jacobs’s first position with the bank was as a trust teller.

“I was dealing with debits and credits, but there was no cash involved,” she said. “You had to balance at the end of the night with the debits and credits just like how the tellers did with the cash.”

Ms Jacobs was disbelieving when her boss told everything would one day become computerised.

“I said how is that going to happen?” she said. “We had to do so much paperwork. Everything had to be typed and then someone had to verify it. It was really, really tedious. But it is amazing how far we have come.”

For a time, Ms Jacobs worked in the computer department doing data operation.

“Everything was punched on ticker tape and you had to verify it,” she said. “Then my boss said, ‘This is all going’. I was like, ‘yeah, right’, but in two years it was all gone like it never existed.”

“I have been in so many different areas,” she said. “I think this is my final stop, because I really like to deal with people. When you come in now today at an elementary level you can really go further. It is up to you to put yourself out there. HSBC has courses and secondments.”

Ms Smith is 67 and Ms Jacobs 68. Neither has any intention of retiring soon.

“I’ll go when I no longer enjoy working here,” Ms Smith said.