By Lawrence White
BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) – HSBC has so far moved only a “tiny” number of jobs to Paris in order to deal with Brexit, Chief Executive John Flint said on Friday, in the bank’s most detailed comments yet on its plans.
The total number of jobs moved is likely fewer than 100 of as many as 1,000 the bank has said it could ultimately transfer, Flint told Reuters on the sidelines of the bank’s annual shareholders’ meeting in Birmingham.
“I would imagine it’s tens, I don’t know exactly but it’s a tiny number of people who have moved so far,” Flint said.
Chief Financial Officer Ewen Stevenson said the lender would likely slow the pace of moving the jobs due to recent uncertainty over the outcome of talks with the European Union.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s repeated failure to get her withdrawal agreement through parliament has left lingering uncertainty as to when, or indeed if, Britain will exit the bloc. EU leaders agreed this week that Brexit was to be delayed until October 31.
The update from Europe’s biggest bank on how many roles it has moved so far comes amid fears in Britain that Brexit could ultimately lead to a decline in London’s status as the continent’s leading financial hub.
A Reuters survey in February found financial services firms expected to move around 2,000 jobs as a result of Brexit, a fifth of the 10,000 flagged in a survey in September 2017.
Shareholders at the meeting overwhelmingly voted against ending a form of pension cuts affecting thousands of former employees, following a protest by some of them outside the bank’s annual meeting in the central English city.
The policy, under which former employees’ pensions are cut when they begin receiving state benefits, is known as a ‘clawback’, which some of the protesters referenced by dressing in lobster outfits.
Advising shareholders to vote against the protesters’ proposal, HSBC Chairman Mark Tucker said the cuts were legal and fair, and fewer than 4 percent of votes cast were in favour.
HSBC also faced questions from climate change activist groups over its financing of coal power-related projects in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam.
The bank last year ended funding fossil fuel projects in all other countries, but said a lack of alternatives in those three meant it would continue there for now.
“We don’t agree that we need to bring an immediate end to financing of all fossil fuels,” Flint said.
(Reporting By Lawrence White; editing by John Stonestreet and Mike Harrison)