Morning Coffee: How to annoy everyone and lose your job at HSBC. Goldman Sachs' new employee ID system
When HSBC hired Stuart Kirk in 2020, it wasn't to trot out the same old platitudes. Kirk, a former head of research at DWS Group and Deutsche Bank, ex-head of the Cambridge Union and former writer of the Financial Times' Lex column, was recruited as head of responsible investment and head of research and insights at HSBC Asset Management to produce "differentiated and thought-provoking content" for institutional clients. He was to be responsible for, "thought leadership."
While this sounds very nice in theory, HSBC discovered on Friday that thought leadership doesn't mean saying what everyone else thinks and that Kirk, who has made a living holding the sorts of contentious opinions that rise above the murk consensus, might be a kind of corporate Piers Morgan.
Kirk started the speech which has since got him suspended pending an internal investigation, by stating that his one sop to institutional investing is having a beard, that he never uses the word "journey, either in print or up on stage" and that he completely disagreed with what "Sharon from Deloitte" had said just a few presentations previously. He then moved on to snipe Mark Carney ("I completely get that at the end of your central bank career there are still many, many years to fill in and you've got to say something, to fly to conferences around the world, to out-hyperbole the next guy...") and to note that everyone in the room appeared so inured to the disaster hyperbole of a kind long pedaled by "nut jobs" that they had barely looked up from their phones. Environmental social and governance (ESG) teams are over-staffed; too many people are dealing with the "financial risk from climate change" said Kirk. Crypto, China, the housing crisis, rising inflation, falling growth and the plummeting price of Target Corporation were all far more important than "something that's going to happen in 20 or 30 years."
As a professional contrarian, Kirk then flicked to what he described as the "fun slide I put up just to annoy people," shown below, which suggests that the more people say we're doomed, the higher that asset prices go. Human beings have long been "fantastic" at adapting to climate change, said Kirk, there will be winners and losers from the transition, central banks' models for climate change make unreasonably pessimistic assumptions, and if anyone had said in the 1930s that we'd be driving about in "gas guzzling cars" that get into "people's lungs" they'd have made the presumption that contemporary life was terrible.
"Markets are crashing around our ears for nothing to do with climate whatsoever," concluded Kirk, urging people to "get back to making money out of the transition," and to enjoy the break for coffee after his presentation ended.
It didn't take long for repercussions. Kirk's speech took place on Friday morning and by Saturday, HSBC chief executive Noel Quinn had consigned Kirk to 'Sharon from Deloitte" status with a comment on LinkedIn stating that he did not "agree - at all" to the comments Kirk had made. This was despite the fact that HSBC had seemingly signed-off Kirk's presentation. A few hours more, and Kirk was suspended.
This isn't the first time that 'thought leaders' have got into hot water. Paul Donovan, UBS's chief economist was put on leave after writing in 2019 a paper that appeared to associate the Chinese with pigs. More recently, two senior analysts at Nordea were put on leave after equating lockdowns with imprisonment.
It's not clear what Kirk will do next. He doesn't seem the sort of person who will issue a public retraction and make Sharon from Deloitte feel loved. Maybe he'll go back to journalism? Kirk prefaced last week's presentation by saying that his years in the "salmon bosom" of the FT were some of the happiest of his career, and that it was a "real joy" to be back. He could be around a lot more in the future. It's either that or daytime TV.
Separately, Goldman Sachs has gone a step further down the path of replicating analysts' DNA and growing junior bankers in jars for the explicit purpose of working all night on spreadsheets.
Business Insider reports that Goldman has installed biometric finger sensors in the lobby of 200 West and that only those whose fingerprints match will be allowed to pass. "What else other than fingerprints are they going to take? Are they going to start scanning our eyes too?" asks one concerned employee. "What happens if we don't consent?" articulates another.
A "person with direct knowledge" of the Goldman sensors says it's all fine. The system is "hygienic" and no information will be stored. We understand similar scanners have been in use in the GS London office for years.
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