HSBC Holdings, Europe's biggest bank, has tapped an outsider for its top job.

The bank has appointed insurance veteran and AIA Group boss Mark Tucker as chairman to replace Douglas Flint, who plans to step down in 2017. 

A one-time professional footballer who has held several leadership jobs including running Britain's Prudential, Tucker will take over as group chairman designate from September 1 and as non-executive group chairman on October 1.

Market-watchers said the appointment signalled the bank's ongoing pivot towards Asia and steadier, lower-risk income streams. 

Among the first tasks for Tucker - whose appointment breaks with HSBC's usual practice of appointing insiders for its top jobs - will be to identify a successor to HSBC CEO Stuart Gulliver, a process expected to conclude in 2018. 

Flint and Gulliver's departure from HSBC after six years will end one of the longest-serving management partnerships at a major global bank. 

The pair slashed over 43,000 jobs and sold assets worldwide as they attempted to shrink the group back to profitability amid a tough environment for global banks. 

With more than $1.2 trillion in customer deposits, HSBC has suffered more than most lenders from low global interest rates which have made it difficult to invest deposits profitably. 

HSBC's full-year profit slumped 62% and fell far short of forecasts last month as the bank took hefty writedowns from restructuring efforts and flagged near-term brakes on revenue growth.

In choosing the next chief executive, Tucker will first have to decide whether to promote one of the lender's existing senior executives or select an outsider like himself. 

For his efforts, Tucker will receive an annual fee of £1.5m in addition to standard benefits, HSBC said. 

His basic salary at AIA in 2015 was $1.5m, but short-term and long-term incentives could bring that total as high as $9.9m, according to AIA's latest annual report. 

Leading internal candidates for the CEO role include HSBC's Europe chief Antonio Simoes and retail and wealth management head John Flint.

Former Goldman Sachs banker Matthew Westerman is seen by some internally as a candidate despite overseeing a relatively small part of the investment bank.

Among external candidates, Lloyds Banking Group CEO Antonio Horta-Osorio is the name most frequently cited by investors. 

The new CEO's main challenge will be to restore revenue growth at HSBC. 

The bank's return on equity, a key measure of performance, slumped last year to less than 1% compared with 7.6% the year before and far short of a long-term target of 10%. 

Other obstacles to boosting HSBC's profits include low demand for loans in its twin home markets of Britain and Hong Kong, reflected in a loan-to-deposit ratio of 67%, below most of the lender's global peers. 

HSBC also faces slowing economic growth in China, dampening hopes that an Asia pivot strategy announced last year could boost returns for the bank.