HSBC has reportedly removed references to a “war” in Ukraine from research reports, amid calls for the British bank to close its operations in Russia.
Russia’s government refers only to a “special military operation” in Ukraine, and Vladimir Putin’s regime has criminalised reporting on its invasion that contains any information from non-official sources, with prison sentences of up to 15 years.
The bank’s committees that review all research sent to clients have amended multiple reports to soften the language used on the subject, including changing the word “war” to “conflict”, according to the Financial Times, which cited two people with direct knowledge of the matter.
HSBC is under pressure to follow the lead of some of its largest international rivals and close its Russian operations, which employ about 200 people serving multinational clients based outside the country. Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank have announced plans to wind down their Russian businesses. Several of the largest Russian banks have been placed under sanctions by the US, EU and UK, making it difficult for foreign banks to carry out transactions in Russia.
HSBC has declined some new Russian clients and refused to extend credit to existing customers, according to Reuters, after saying on 14 March that it was “not accepting any new business in Russia”. However, it has not announced plans to withdraw or wind down its operations.
MPs from the Conservative party, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have said HSBC should leave Russia. The Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge earlier this month said banks should “do the right thing” and sever ties with Russia. Kevin Hollinrake, a Conservative MP, said HSBC’s continued presence in Russia “cannot be justified” and added there were “clear commercial and moral reasons” to shut down the operation.
Hollinrake said on Monday he would be closing his HSBC account.
“Have they seen the horrific, appalling footage the rest of us are watching on our TV screens every night? Ukrainians are sacrificing everything to keep what we and the directors of HSBC take for granted: freedom,” Hollinrake said.
“We all have a responsibility to support them whatever the personal or business cost. I will be closing my HSBC account today and hope many others do the same.”
The move to edit analyst reports had prompted strong complaints from some staff, the Financial Times reported.
A person briefed on the situation said the research team had issued some reports making explicit reference to the war but acknowledged that there were often sensitivities around research reports. The content of analyst reports, which are provided as a service to clients, is not usually controlled at a group level.
HSBC declined to comment. It has previously said: “Our thoughts are with all those impacted by the continuing conflict in Ukraine.” The statement also said the bank “will continue to operate in line with local regulatory requirements”.