HSBC has suspended a senior executive pending an internal investigation into a presentation he made at an event last week, according to people with knowledge of the process.
Stuart Kirk, global head of responsible investment in the bank’s asset management division, accused central bankers and policymakers of overstating the financial risks of climate change in a bid to “outrun the next “.
Over the weekend, chief executive Noel Quinn and Nuno Matos, head of HSBC’s wealth management and personal banking businesses, sought to distance themselves from comments in social media posts.
While the bank and its senior executives criticized the speech at a Financial Times conference, its theme and content had been agreed internally before Kirk spoke on Thursday, according to people with knowledge of the planning. event.
The title of the presentation – “Why investors don’t have to worry about climate risk” – had been agreed two months earlier and posted on the website closer to the event.
“I completely disagree with what was said. [this] FT Moral Money Summit of the Week,” Quinn posted on LinkedIn over the weekend. “They are inconsistent with HSBC’s strategy and do not reflect the views of HSBC’s senior management or HSBC Asset Management.”
He added: “We have a lot of work to do and I am determined that our team will not be distracted by the comments of the past week.”
Matos, whose division includes the asset management business, said: “In complete agreement with Noel Quinn – the transition to net zero is of the utmost importance. [sic] importance to us and we will strive to find ways to help our customers on this journey.
HSBC has come under pressure from activists and shareholders in recent years over its role in financing companies with large greenhouse gas emissions.
Kirk’s comments on climate change – which angered environmentalists – were particularly embarrassing for the bank as it sponsored the conference and was promoted on the event’s website as a strategic partner.
HSBC declined to comment, while Kirk did not respond at press time.
During his speech, Kirk said that throughout his 25-year career in the financial industry, “there was always crazy work that told me about the end of the world”, comparing the climate crisis to the Y2K bug. which predicted a widespread computer problem around the turn of the millennium.
“Unsubstantiated, strident, partisan, self-serving and apocalyptic warnings are ALWAYS wrong,” he wrote on a slide accompanying his presentation.
Last month the FT revealed that the Advertising Standards Authority, the UK watchdog, had drafted a recommendation that it believed HSBC had misled customers in two advertisements by selectively promoting its green initiatives , while omitting information about its continued funding of high greenhouse gas emitting companies. emissions.
A year ago, the bank came under pressure over its climate pledges by a group of investors, but avoided a shareholder revolt at its annual meeting by stepping up its plans in line with international agreements to limit global warming.
However, the speed with which HSBC and other lenders have committed to action, including on coal power and mining financing, has disappointed some ESG activists and funds. They keep pushing for change.
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