ESG

HSBC Figure Who Challenged Climate Change Forecasts Resigns

Editorial Staff, 8 July 2022

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The saga shines a light on the extent to which dissent from certain ideas about climate change will be tolerated in the banking industry.

A senior HSBC executive who accused central bankers and officials of over-stating the financial risks attributed to climate change has resigned. 

Stuart Kirk, the Hong Kong/UK-listed bank's global head of responsible investing, was reportedly suspended in May after he said in a speech: "There's always some nut job telling me about the end of the world."

On his LinkedIn page, Kirk, based in London, wrote: “Today I wish to announce that I have resigned as global head of responsible investing at HSBC Asset Management. Ironically given my job title, I have concluded that the bank’s behaviour towards me since my speech at a Financial Times conference in May has made my position, well, unsustainable.”

“Investing is hard. So is saving our planet. Opinions on both differ. But humanity’s best chance of success is open and honest debate. If companies believe in diversity and speaking up, they need to walk the talk. A cancel culture destroys wealth and progress,” Kirk wrote. “There is no place for virtue signalling in finance. Likewise as a writer, researcher and investor, I know that words or trading shares can only achieve so much. True impact comes from the combination of real-world action and innovative solutions.”

HSBC declined to comment to this news service on the matter.

The story shines a light on the extent to which banks and other wealth managers think they must curb dissent from the view that human-caused global warming, and other associated problems, demands drastic action, even if it imposes heavy costs. The trend of environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing is now entrenched. For a wealth management firm not to stress its ESG credentials is bordering on the dangerous, particularly as firms are trying to win business from younger, more supposedly ESG-minded, clients.

HSBC examined Kirk’s remarks from a presentation called "Why investors need not worry about climate risk" at a conference. He was reported as saying that climate change was "not a financial risk that we need to worry about."

Such comments run contrary to much of the narrative from financial institutions and other bodies which argue that the world needs to give up its reliance on fossil fuels because the cost of not doing so outweighs the benefits of using them. 

The episode raises questions over the extent to which a sort of “cancel culture” – to use a widely employed term – is affecting financial services. Some investment sector figures think the situation is getting out of hand, especially as the stakes have risen since energy bills have skyrocketed. In the US, a new financial firm, Strive, has been set up by Vivek Ramaswamy, who made money in pharmaceutical start-ups before writing a book last year called “Woke, Inc.” Strive puts excelling at business before cultural and political issues.

Following Kirk's speech, the bank's group chief executive Noel Quinn was quoted as saying that he did not agree "at all" with his remarks, adding that "they are inconsistent with HSBC's strategy and do not reflect the views of the senior leadership of HSBC or HSBC Asset Management."

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