HSBC has defeated an attempt to split up the bank after a majority of investors rejected a plan backed by its largest shareholder at the bank’s annual general meeting, which was heavily disrupted by climate protests.
The bank’s chair, Mark Tucker, announced that a majority of shareholders had backed him and the board in rejecting the proposal to spin off HSBC’s Asian operations, he said at the meeting in Birmingham on Friday.
Several protesters interrupted the meeting after 12 minutes, beginning an hour of disruption in which Tucker and the chief executive, Noel Quinn, repeatedly stopped speaking until the bank’s security removed the campaigners. Protesters sang reworded versions of Y.M.C.A. by Village People and A Message to You, Rudy by the Specials.
The UK’s biggest bank has come under pressure from campaigners to cut its financing of fossil fuels, but Tucker and Quinn insisted the bank was acting responsibly on climate issues when asked repeatedly by shareholders if they would reduce lending to oil and gas companies. One question came from a resident of the Verde Island Passage, a marine biodiversity hotspot being targeted for fossil fuel investment.
While the meeting was dominated by the climate protests, for the company’s board – who watched stony-faced as protesters were removed – the key outcome of the meeting was the results of the shareholder resolution on breaking up the bank.
A fifth of the votes cast were in favour of the resolution. Shareholders holding just over half of the bank voted.
The resolution called for HSBC to spin off its Asian operations, after the Chinese insurer Ping An, which owns 8% of the bank, last year said the move would increase value for shareholders.
The resolution was brought by Lui Yu Kin, an individual shareholder from Hong Kong. However, Ping An last month said the resolution and another to restore dividends to pre-Covid levels “have their merits”.
Other shareholders had said they opposed the resolution. The Norwegian state-owned Norges Bank Investment Management, which controls 3% of HSBC’s shares, this week said it would vote against.
Quinn and Tucker had repeatedly said shareholders should vote against the resolution.
“We considered alternative structural options last year and we did so rigorously,” Quinn said. “Our analysis showed that such options would destroy value and put your dividends at risk. Our current strategy is the fastest and safest way of generating returns.”
Quinn also addressed the criticisms of the climate protesters. Answering a question on HSBC’s funding for fossil fuel extraction, he said the bank had had extensive engagement with oil and gas companies.
“I believe we are doing the right thing by transitioning to net zero over time, and financing that transition,” Quinn said.
The rival bank Barclays also faced significant disruption at its annual meeting on Wednesday from climate protesters.