Climate wars are heating up at JPMorgan Chase, with activist shareholders pushing to oust former Exxon Mobil Chairman Lee Raymond from the top position on the bank’s board.
The largest U.S. bank already is under fire for lending billions to the fossil-fuel industry. Now a group called Majority Action is mobilizing shareholders in an effort to remove Raymond, arguing that the longtime climate skeptic’s presence on the board limits the bank’s ability to react to the environmental crisis.
Banks worldwide, facing increasing scrutiny over how they add to the climate crisis, are reacting in different ways. For instance, BNP Paribas, criticized as one of the leading Western money sources of coal expansion, responded to heavy criticism by announcing it would cease all financing of the sector worldwide by 2040. U.K. banks will have to show how they plan to respond to the harmful effects of climate change under new stress tests under a new Bank of England effort.
The 81-year old Raymond, who joined the board in 1987, is close to JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, with public filings calling him Dimon’s sounding board, according to Bloomberg. He holds $35 million in JPMorgan stock, according to Bloomberg data.
Since Dimon is also chairman of JPMorgan’s board, that puts an extra “onus” on the lead independent director to “provide the oversight and guidance that long-term shareholders require as the climate crisis escalates,” according to the proposed shareholder action. Raymond is “uniquely poorly qualified” to be that director, it says.
Majority Action argues that Raymond’s decadeslong term on the board exceeds best-practice guidelines for corporate governance and that he and his family have personal financial stakes in the fossil-fuel industry. And, in his years at the helm of Exxon Mobil, “he was the architect and public face” of the company’s “efforts to promote denial of the risks and likelihood of climate change, even after Exxon scientists warned executives of the dangers of warming due to rising CO2 emissions,” it says.
Former Exxon Mobil scientists testified before Congress last fall that the company chose decades ago to ignore evidence they turned up about climate risks from fossil fuels. But the company was exonerated in December after New York state tried it for fraud, alleging that the company lied to investors about the risks of climate change.
A spokesman for JPMorgan told Bloomberg that Raymond “contributes to the success of the company in countless ways” and ensures “that the board represents a wide range of views and perspectives and hears from them as well.”
JPMorgan Co-President Daniel Pinto told CNBC in December that ESG — or environmental, social and governance — factors come up in every client meeting he goes to.
“What is happening now is the asset management companies are becoming more selective on what they do and what they don’t do,” he told CNBC. “And the banks are also more selective in how we deal with certain sectors that are under scrutiny.”
- JPMorgan Chase released its second annual Global Alternatives Outlook last month, to help clients identify investment opportunities to create “resilient” portfolios, including ones that take sustainability into account.
- Goldman Sachs announced in December that it would spend $750 billion on climate transition projects and limit fossil-fuel lending.
- Oil and natural gas pipeline companies, which have long been a target for environmentalists’ ire, are getting a fresh look from sustainability investors, Bloomberg reported, citing the National Bank of Canada. Companies such as Enbridge and TC Energy have “impressive” safety records and small environmental footprints.