Ah, HSBC. The Asian banking giant has raised some eyebrows in recent years with their endless antics to appear oh so right-on. Back in 2019, they ran a series of adverts proclaiming that ‘we are not an island’, ignoring the fact that, er, we very much are. More recently they’ve rushed to associate themselves with Halifax’s pronouns stunt and this week unveiled their latest progressive wheeze: offering ‘gender-neutral banking’. This means the bank will ‘stop collecting data on the gender of its customers across some products’ in order to provide ‘more inclusive services for non-binary and trans people.’
There’s a rich irony in HSBC now refusing to collect data on its customers, given its involvement in abetting the Chinese government’s crackdown on Hong Kong. HSBC not only publicly backed the draconian National Security Law but also froze the bank accounts of prominent pro-democracy activists in exile at the behest of Beijing, something that obviously involved keeping tabs on the troublemakers. Its chief executive, Noel Quinn bleated that ‘I can’t cherry-pick which laws to follow’; given the law claimed universal jurisdiction, it doesn’t exactly suggest pro Hong Kong democrats in London are safe with the bank, non-binary or not.
There’s an inconsistency too in HSBC’s latest announcement. For all their posturing about universal values and how ‘it’s vital that everyone can be themselves in the workplace’, a search of HSBC Saudi Arabia yields precisely zero results for ‘gender.’ Similarly, given their efforts to keep Beijing happy, Mr S has his doubts about how such progressive pronouncements will fare in China, where same-sex couples are unable to marry or adopt, and where there’s been a push back in recent years on depictions of homosexuals and ‘effeminate men’ on television.
Still, perhaps it’s better we’re talking about HSBC’s ‘values’ rather than basic banking functions. It was just seven months ago that the Asian giant was fined some £69.3 million here in Britain over ‘unacceptable failings’ and ‘inadequate monitoring’ in its anti-money laundering systems. Still, that’s nothing compared to HSBC Bank USA, which was fined a whopping £1.4 billion in 2012. It followed a US Department of Justice investigation into the bank’s failure to stop money laundering by Mexican drug cartels. If only Pablo Escobar had identified as an ‘Mx.’
Let’s hope that HSBC’s new ‘gender-neutral’ banking has better checks than its existing old-fashioned heteronormative system.