Senior HSBC executives have distanced themselves from comments on the financial risks of climate change made by the global head of responsible investing at the bank’s asset management division.
Chief executive Noel Quinn and Nuno Matos, head of HSBC’s wealth and personal banking business, criticized comments made by Stuart Kirk in which he accused central bankers and policymakers of overstating the risks in an attempt to “out-hyperbole the next guy”.
While the bank and its senior executives have criticized the speech made 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 event’s planning.
The title of the presentation – ‘Why investors need not worry about climate risk’ – had been agreed two months earlier and publicized on the website in the run-up to the event.
“I do not agree – at all – with the remarks made at [this] week’s FT Moral Money Summit, ”Quinn said on LinkedIn this weekend. “They are inconsistent with HSBC’s strategy and do not reflect the views of the senior leadership of HSBC 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 last week’s comments.”
Matos, whose division includes the asset management business, said: “In complete agreement with Noel Quinn – the transition to net zero is of upmost [sic] importance to us and we will strive for ways to help our clients on this journey. ”
HSBC has come under pressure in recent years from campaigners and shareholders for its role in financing companies with substantial greenhouse gas emissions.
Kirk’s comments on climate change – which drew ire from environmentalists – were especially embarrassing for the bank as it sponsored the conference and was promoted on the event’s website as a strategic partner.
During the speech, Kirk said that throughout his 25-year career in the finance industry “there was always some nut job telling me about the end of the world”, likening the climate crisis to the Y2K bug that predicted a widespread computer glitch at the turn of the millennium.
“Unsubstantiated, shrill, partisan, self-serving, apocalyptic warnings are ALWAYS wrong,” he wrote on a slide accompanying his presentation.
Kirk did not respond to requests to comment further.
Last month, the FT revealed that the Advertising Standards Authority, the UK watchdog, had drafted a recommendation that it deemed HSBC had misled customers in two adverts by selectively promoting its green initiatives, while omitting information about its continued financing of companies with substantial greenhouse gas emissions.
A year ago, the bank was pressured on its climate commitments by a group of investors, but headed off a shareholder revolt at its annual meeting by strengthening its plans in line with international agreements to limit global warming.
However, the speed at which HSBC and other lenders have pledged to act, particularly on financing for coal power and mining, has disappointed some activists and ESG funds and they continue to push for change.
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