HSBC suspends executive who downplayed climate change

Mr Stuart Kirk, the head of responsible investing for the bank's asset management unit, will be suspended while the bank conducts an internal investigation. PHOTO: STUART KIRK/LINKEDIN

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - HSBC Holdings has suspended executive Stuart Kirk days after he criticised the finance industry for worrying too much about climate change, according to the Financial Times.

Mr Kirk, the head of responsible investing for the bank's asset management unit, had slammed environmental "hyperbole", complaining that he has repeatedly had to deal with "some nut job telling me about the end of the world", Bloomberg previously reported.

He will be suspended while the bank conducts an internal investigation, FT said on Sunday (May 22), citing people with knowledge of the process.

The bank has already distanced itself from Mr Kirk's comments, with chief executive officer Noel Quinn calling them "inconsistent" with HSBC's strategy. A bank spokesman declined to comment on the report.

"Climate change is not a financial risk that we need to worry about," Mr Kirk said last Thursday in a 15-minute conference presentation. "Who cares if Miami is 6m underwater in 100 years? Amsterdam has been 6m underwater for ages and that is a really nice place. We will cope with it."

Mr Kirk, who was previously with Deutsche Bank, has worked at HSBC since early 2020 and took on his current role last year, where he is responsible for integrating environmental, social and governance opportunities and risks in his unit.

Mr Kirk also took aim at former Bank of England governor Mark Carney and other policymakers for talking up the risk from climate change.

"I completely get that at the end of your central bank career, there are still many, many years to fill in," he said. "You have got to say something, you have got to fly around the world to conferences, you have got to out-hyperbole the next guy. But I feel like it is getting a little bit out of hand."

A day after Mr Kirk's comments, HSBC CEO Noel Quinn gave a more on-message speech at the Future Investment Initiative Institute conference, saying the bank wanted to be a market leader in financing the transition of industry to a low-carbon world.

"Over the next 30 years, the move to a more sustainable carbon footprint will require huge investment," Mr Quinn said. "That has to happen in space and time, like we have not seen before."

Climate change is a particularly sensitive issue at HSBC after it faced a warning from the Britain's advertising watchdog over greenwashing.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) found that the bank misled customers in two ads published in October, FT reported earlier this month. The bank is responding to the ASA's draft recommendations, according to FT.

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