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Why HSBC’s head of ‘responsible’ investing is wrong

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I watched Stuart Kirk’s speech at the FT Moral Money conference last week …

… and, frankly, was astounded. He is now being side-lined, suspended, maybe sacked and certainly a pariah with anyone who cares about the future of our world. Why? Well, let’s just take three comments thrown out during his presentation:

“Who cares if Miami is six metres underwater in 100 years? Amsterdam has been six metres underwater for ages, and that’s a really nice place.” Stuart Kirk Head of Responsible Investments

“The average loan length in a big bank like ours, HSBC, is six years. What happens to the planet in year seven is irrelevant.” Stuart Kirk Head of Responsible Investments

“There's always some nut job telling me about the end of the world.” Stuart Kirk Head of Responsible Investments

Hmmmmm …

In finance, should we care about year seven? In finance, does it matter if we invest and make money out of things that will ensure our children and grandchildren have no future? Does it matter if we line our pockets with dollars and don't give a frack?

Digging deeper, I find that he based most of his presentation on the economics of Nobel prize winner William Nordhaus who states that “even if we make the fastest possible turn towards zero emissions, CO2 will continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, because we cannot simply shut down our economy”.

Does that mean we shouldn’t try?

The underlying headline here however is that Kirk's views are those that predominate most big bank thinking. The view is basically that we should not worry about the future, if we are making profits today. I don't agree with that view, as it is unjustified. For example, many argue that Nordhaus's views are wrong and it becomes a you say this and I say that social distancing. For example, I’ve been debating climate for the last few years, in the build-up to launching Digital for Good, and have met a number of climate deniers. One is David Siegel, who I asked to contribute to the book, but he refused on the basis that it promoted the ESG agenda too much.

David states that he was a climate change advocate back in the 1990s but, after researching the field, believes that it’s a fallacy. You can hear his views here. I replied that I don’t give a damn about the climate. What? It’s true, I don’t care about the climate. I care about my children. I care about animals. I care about biodiversity. I care about the planet I share with others.

The world has seen an average 68% drop in mammal, bird, fish, reptile, and amphibian populations since 1970. Much of the loss is caused by habitat destruction due to unsustainable agriculture or logging. In other words, human activity is killing our world of life. That’s what I care about.

The thing is that we can now use technology and finance to work together to fix this. We can monitor in real-time human and wildlife activity, and see if they are working in harmony. We can finance human activity to work  in harmony with wildlife. We can integrate technology and finance to create a world that works in harmony.

Harmony.

Harmony: “a situation in which people are peaceful and agree with each other” [Cambridge Dictionary]

Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

That’s why we need to use Digital for Good (come to the launch June 6, it’s free!) and it seems a bit like John Lennon’s Imagine. Use your imagination. We can make this happen. Imagine harmony … and the world will live as one.

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky

Imagine all the people
Livin' for today
Ah

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too

Imagine all the people
Livin' life in peace
You

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
You

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

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Chris Skinner Author Avatar

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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