HSBC displayed at its headquarters
Finews Asia

HSBC suspends head of responsible investing after climate risk comments.
Stuart Kirk reportedly called climate warnings 'shrill'

HSBC logo displayed on a window
HSBC suspends banker Stuart Kirk who called climate warnings shrill.
Source: The Telegraph UK

Reports specify that HSBC has gone ahead to suspend a senior banker after him referring to climate crisis warnings as “unsubstantiated” and “shrill” at the time of a conference speech. This was denounced by the chief executive officer of HSBC. The banker, Stuart Kirt had been the head of responsible investing at HSBC since July 2021. He is to remain suspended till the bank finishes its internal investigation into the situation.

Apparently, the bank came under significant pressure to sack Kirk following his presentation in London titled ‘why investors need not worry about climate risk.’ This was in which he trivially handled important topics of major flooding risks. Additionally, complaining about giving his time to look at ‘something that’s going to happen in 20 or 30 years.’ Neither Kirk nor HSBC have acknowledged any requests made for a comment on the situation.

The senior banker’s presentation controversially comprised of slides stating “Unsubstantiated, shrill, partisan, self-serving, apocalyptic warnings are ALWAYS wrong.” Moreover, it referred to statements from officials at the UN and Bank of England, who have attempted to raise the alarm regarding global heating.

“Human beings have been fantastic at adapting to change, adapting to climate emergencies, and we will continue to do so,” Kirk told attenders at the Financial Times’ Moral Money conference on Thursday.

Additionally, he made the remark about who would care ‘if Miami is six metres underwater in 100 years,’ going to state that Amsterdam has been like that for a long time, ‘and that’s a really nice place.’ Clearly, his words have given rise to a public relations controversy for HSBC. The bank has faced struggles to burnish its green credentials, in spite of pledges to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

This led to bosses, including the CEO Noel Quinn denouncing Kirk’s comments, emphasising on the fact that these do not reflect HSBC’s views on the climate change. On Saturday, May 21, Quinn took to LinkedIn  stating that he does not ‘at all’ agree with the remarks made by Kirk at the FT Moral Money Summit.

“They are inconsistent with HSBC’s strategy and do not reflect the views of the senior leadership of HSBC or HSBC Asset Management. Our ambition is to be the leading bank supporting the global economy in the transition to net zero.”

Kirk’s suspension was well received by climate activists, however, stating that the bank ought to answer questions regarding how far Kirk’s views were known or supported in the bank. A senior campaigner for ‘the Bank on our Future’ campaign, Beau O’Sullivan pointed out how Kirk must be ‘on his way out,’ though its raises other issue for HSBC. This, he stated, was for now it had to explain how such comments were ‘signed off,’ along with how far Kirk’s views, and what kind of culture ‘breeding’ in the bank allowed such an incident.

Formerly, Kirk was the editor of Lex column of the Financial Times. In July last year, he was appointed the head of responsible investing. This put him responsible for a team managing environmental analyses, social and governance (ESG) risks, which could impact the investments of the asset management arm.