Standard Chartered’s head of investment banking has emerged as the leading internal contender to replace Bill Winters as chief executive, according to people familiar with the matter.

Simon Cooper is now the “heir apparent” after the outperformance of his advisory and trading unit last year during the coronavirus pandemic, the people said. This has elevated him above the emerging markets-focused lender’s other main candidate, Ben Hung, who is regional CEO for Greater China and North Asia, and head of retail banking and wealth management.

Mr Cooper, a Briton based in Singapore since joining Standard Chartered from HSBC in 2016, may be returning to the bank’s headquarters in London. Informal discussions have been held about naming him as deputy CEO, the people added.

He has also received “empathy training”, commonly given to managers preparing for a high-profile, public-facing role, one of the people said. A spokeswoman for the bank declined to comment.

Judy Hsu was previously another internal contender when she was regional CEO for south-east and south Asia. However at the start of this year she was moved to head of consumer, private and business banking and is no longer in the running.

Mr Winters, a former JPMorgan executive who has run Standard Chartered since 2015, will not be stepping down this year, but is nearing the end of his tenure. The lender makes the vast majority of its profits in Asia and is one of the largest international banks operating in Africa.

He inherited a bank in crisis after a rapid, unchecked expansion across emerging markets under his predecessors resulted in years of steep loan losses and falling revenues. Mr Winters was forced to dramatically shrink the balance sheet and rein in risk taking.

He also oversaw a cultural overhaul at the lender, which had been fined billions of dollars for dodging US sanctions on Iran and suffered from ethics transgressions and allegations of harassment even in its top ranks.

Despite recent improvements in performance, Standard Chartered’s stock has fallen 50 per cent during Mr Winters’ five years in charge.

Speculation has been mounting about his future at the bank after he took on several additional roles, the people said. These include as chair of the task force on voluntary carbon markets announced in September by Mark Carney, former Bank of England governor, and as adviser to the UK government on its post-Brexit trading ties with India.

Standard Chartered’s chairman José Viñals is also considering external candidates for when Mr Winters eventually departs. The board is conducting its normal “market-mapping” exercise to monitor all potential options, the people said.

In the first nine months of 2020, Standard Chartered’s pre-tax profit fell 41 per cent to $2.1bn. It was forced to set aside $1.9bn to cover losses on potential bad loans, much of which was related to global lockdowns to fight coronavirus. Transaction banking income also plunged as international trade slowed.

However a bright spot during the period was the investment bank run by Mr Cooper. Here trading revenues surged 24 per cent to $3.2bn in volatile markets, helping to bolster his standing.

Standard Chartered reports its full-year results on February 25.