HSBC boss Michael Geoghegan has delayed expansion plans because of concerns over a second downturn, it was reported today.
Mr Geoghegan told The Financial Times he was concerned about "growing too fast" before the recovery had fully taken hold.
The chief executive said he was not as convinced as others that the worst is over and warned that the economy could encounter a second slump before repairing.
Mr Geoghegan was interviewed in the wake of a reshuffle at HSBC which will see him based in Hong Kong rather than London and involve taking on responsibility for developing group strategy.
"Is this a V recovery or a W?" he said.
"(I think) it’s the latter. (If I’m right), we have to be very careful we don’t grow the balance sheet so far before the recovery has come only to write it back into the impairment line later on."
Mr Geoghegan was also cautious about the level of capital banks might be required to hold by regulators.
He told the FT he expects core tier one ratios - which measure high quality capital as a proportion of riskier assets - to be in the region of 10%.
This is higher than the eight per cent regulators are currently thought to be proposing.
Another senior executive told the newspaper that HSBC night look to make medium-sized purchases.
He said a £5 billion acquisition could be a possibility, with troubled bank subsidiaries - including parts of Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland - potential targets.