The pay of HSBC’s chief executive has reached nearly £8m. Those who object to yawning inequality are helpless.
Witty Robin Hood financial tax campaigners were demonstrating outside HSBC’s AGM on Friday. As shareholders queued outside the Westminster venue, protesters dressed as pin-striped fat cats laundered fake £50 notes in a washing-up bowl with giant scrubbing brushes, a visual reminder of what the bank got up to.
HSBC has been fined £1.2bn for laundering Mexican drug money, with its annual accounts setting aside £773m to cover ongoing tax investigations. PIRC, the pensions and investments research consultants who rate company performance on behalf of shareholders, noted HSBC’s 62% drop in profits last year, and the bank has closed 62 UK branches and shifted 1,000 jobs to Paris due to Brexit. The Financial Conduct Authority rates HSBC as the second-worst bank for customer complaints about banking, credit cards and mortgages.
Undeterred, HSBC’s chief executive, Stuart Gulliver, is up for a pay rise to bring him to nearly £8m a year. Gulliver, readers may recall, was exposed in the Guardian in 2015 for having sheltered millions of his own money in a Swiss account through a Panamanian company. Although his actions were legal, he was registered as domiciled in Hong Kong for tax purposes, despite living and working in the UK. Leaked documents appeared to show that the Swiss private bank operated by HSBC was complicit in tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance, doling out bricks of cash to clients, and providing banking services to criminals, drug smugglers and friends and families of dictators.
PIRC recommended that shareholders should vote against HSBC’s “highly excessive” executive pay, with its ratio of 102:1 from the top to average employees. It said the bank’s chair, Douglas Flint, had “failed in his responsibilities” and his position was “untenable”. Flint warned of the “threat of populism impacting on policy choices in upcoming European elections”. Yes, indeed. But did his bank’s actions inflame this populism?