HSBC – bowing to the dictators
Pressure was growing on HSBC to close its business in Russia after several MPs on the influential Commons Treasury Select Committee called on the FTSE 100 bank to follow other western businesses and withdraw. This was two weeks ago.
Rival international banks have largely quit the country after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, throwing a spotlight on HSBC once again.
In January last year, MPs accused the banking giant of “aiding and abetting” China’s crackdown in Hong Kong. Back then, its Chief executive Noel Quinn, appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee and was told the bank was turning a blind eye to the situation.
Mr Quinn mounted a robust defence of the bank, saying: “I can’t cherry-pick which laws to follow.”
The BBC reported that HSBC faced accusations of acting in a political manner and being too close to the Chinese authorities after it emerged last year that the bank had frozen accounts belonging to pro-democracy politician Ted Hui and members of his family.
There has also been criticism over HSBC’s actions last summer when it was one of a number of institutions that appeared to welcome the introduction of a new security law in Hong Kong.
HSBC has historic links to Hong Kong, where pro-democracy campaigners took to the streets and faced a crackdown by the Chinese authorities.
Fast forward to last week where HSBC has been seen to repeatedly edited its analysts’ research publications to remove references to a “war” in Ukraine.
HSBC is resisting pressure to follow rivals by closing its business in Russia. Moscow officials have consistently denied that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine constitutes a war, calling it a special military operation justified on grounds of self-defence.
The FT reports that – HSBC committees that review all external-published research and client communications have amended multiple reports to soften the language used on the subject, including changing the word “war” to “conflict”, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter. The changes in language had triggered internal debate and strong complaints from some staff, they added. It contrasts with explicit references to Russia’s “war” in research from rival banks such as UBS, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank
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HSBC declined to comment and referred to a previous statement that read: “Our thoughts are with all those impacted by the continuing conflict in Ukraine.”
Other banks including JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs to have already announced their withdrawal from Russia.
Subsequently, a cross-party group of more than 60 MPs asked the trustees of the parliamentary pension scheme to sell its shares in HSBC, citing the company’s continued exposure to Russia.