HSBC has today reported a better than expected 32% rise in pretax profit for the third quarter.

This was thanks to reduced costs from fines and settlements with regulators as heavy spending on compliance by Europe's biggest bank begins to take effect. 

HSBC said costs from regulatory punishments fell $1.4 billion from the third quarter of last year.

This showed progress on reforming its conduct at a time when the British government is keen to move on from the financial crisis to a more accommodative stance towards the industry. 

Recent quarterly earnings reports for the bank have been marred by provisions for regulatory investigations.

These include allegations that HSBC and other banks rigged foreign exchange markets worldwide and that HSBC helped Swiss clients evade taxes. 

The UK lender said in a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange its total spending on regulatory programmes and compliance rose to $2.2 billion in the first nine months of the year, up 33% from the same time last year.

Quarterly pretax profit was $6.1 billion, up from $4.6 billion the same time a year ago, the bank said. That was more than the consensus estimate of $5.2 billion, based on the average of analysts' forecasts compiled by the bank. 

Underlying revenues, though, fell 4% to $15.1 billion compared with the same quarter last year, hit by plunging stock markets and slowing economic growth in Asia.

The earnings update gave investors a first chance to check on progress on the 10 goals HSBC's management set itself in June, including reducing risk-weighted assets by 25%, selling operations in Turkey and Brazil and cutting $4.5-5 billion in costs. 

HSBC said it was nearly 30% of the way towards completing the reduction in its assets, and achieved $400m in overall cost savings versus the second quarter of this year. 

Perhaps the most-watched of the ten goals by investors is the bank's strategic review into whether it should move its headquarters out of Britain, with Hong Kong seen as the most likely destination. 

HSBC said it had made progress on this but the decision could slip beyond the year-end deadline originally set, echoing comments made by chief executive Stuart Gulliver in October.