Reports: HSBC suspends responsible investing head after controversial climate speech

HSBC has suspended its global head of responsible investing Stuart Kirk following a presentation he gave last week, in which he argued investors need not worry about climate change risks.

According to the FTKirk was suspended over the weekend pending an internal investigation, although HSBC has declined to comment.

The move comes following a speech Kirk gave at an FT Moral Money event on 19 May, in which Kirk bemoaned that throughout his financial career there has always been “some nutjob telling me about the end of the world”.

“What bothers me about this one is the amount of work these people make me do,” he said.

Kirk also asked: “Who cares if Miami is six meters under water in 100 years? Amsterdam has been six meters under water for ages and that is a really nice place. We will cope with it.”

Senior executives have been eager to distance themselves from Kirk’s speech, despite the theme and content of the speech having reportedly been agreed internally by HSBC before it was given.

Posting on LinkedIn, group chief executive of HSBC Noel Quinn said he did “not agree at all” with Kirk’s speech, adding that his comments were “inconsistent with HSBC’s strategy and do not reflect the views of senior leadership.”

He said the firm’s ambition was to be “the leading bank supporting the global economy in the transition to net zero” and remained “fully committed to a net zero future”.

Nuno Matos, chief executive of wealth and personal banking at HSBC, said he was in “complete agreement” with Quinn, adding the transition to net zero was of utmost importance to the firm.

In the initial wake of the speech, chief executive of HSBC Global Asset Management Nicolas Moreau told Investment Week that Kirk’s remarks “do not reflect the views of HSBC Asset Management nor HSBC Group in any way”.

He added that climate change was “one of the most serious emergencies facing the planet” and HSBC was committed to a sustainable future.

Kirk’s comments prompted widespread anger among climate campaigners and green business figures.

Beau O’Sullivan, senior campaigner on the Bank on our Future campaign, said that while Kirk had now been suspended, the affair still “opens up a new can of worms for HSBC”.

“The bank must now explain how such offensive and inaccurate comments were signed off, to what extent other senior execs share Kirk’s views, and what sort of culture HSBC is breeding that allowed the comments to pass unchallenged,” he said. “There is more than one Stuart Kirk in the woodwork, given the bank’s level of fossil fuel financing.

“More broadly, this is another massive smirch on HSBC’s reputation on climate which it’s been at pains to burnish recently. Investors and customers should rightly question and scrutinise the bank’s promises on climate, including its upcoming oil and gas policy, not forgetting that HSBC is facing potential action by the advertising regulator over greenwashing.”

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