Nordea names interim sustainable finance co-heads as Beslik leaves after 10 years

Hannestad and Langworth step in as veteran SRI figure leaves this month

Nordea has named Ylva Hannestad and Anders Langworth as interim co-heads of group sustainable finance to replace Sasja Beslik who is leaving after 10 years at the firm.

Both Hannestad and Langworth “have both worked as deputy heads of Group Sustainable Finance and will now be co-heads for an interim period” a Nordea spokesperson told RI, adding: “We will start a process to find a new Head of Sustainable Finance immediately.”

Beslik is leaving by “mutual agreement” and will pursue unspecified “new opportunities outside the bank”.

Hannestad has been with the company since 2008 having joined as a graduate while Anders Langworth joined in 2011. He is the founder of the new Bankers for Climate initiative, the climate change movement for employees in the global financial industry that has high-level endorsement.

Beslik, with his globe-trotting Twitter feed, has been in some ways the public face of Nordea: his role with the World Economic Forum’s Expert Network even merits an entry in the company’s official corporate history, alongside milestones like having legendary writer Hans Christian Andersen as an early customer.

But last year, Beslik found himself in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, after some of Nordea’s sustainability funds came under fire from experts. A number of senior finance academics, activists and portfolio managers criticised Nordea’s claims that some of its retail funds offered customers 27x more carbon savings than if they cut down on meat and water consumption, reduced international flights and used public transport.

There was backlash at the seeming suggestion that individuals should move their money to Nordea’s funds – which have a relatively high price tag – in lieu of making concrete lifestyle changes.

Magnus Vie Sundal, former Credit Strategist at DNB Markets, described the methodology for calculating climate savings as “weak”. Martin Schmaltz, a Professor of Economics and Finance at Oxford University, pointed out on social media that one key “problem with your methodology is to simply assume that carbon emissions are saved by investors shifting savings to green funds”. Former AP4 bond trader and climate finance expert Ulf Erlandsson also flagged up problems with the claims in a blog on LinkedIn the former Chief Economist at Nordea, Steinar Juel, chimed in, saying the situation was “embarrassing” and urged the firm to “clean up” and be transparent on its calculations.

Beslik took to Twitter to defend the claims – at one point asking a critical journalist [translation from Swedish]: “Can you read???… It doesn’t seem you and your friends like to understand” and accusing him of “whining”.

“We will start a process to find a new Head of Sustainable Finance immediately”

Espen Henriksen, an Associate Professor in the Department of Finance at the Norwegian School of Business, waded into the Twitter spat, asking for documentation to back up Nordea’s climate claims, to which Beslik replied [translation from Swedish]: “Aha! And who are you?”.

Asked if this criticism was a factor in Beslik’s departure, Nordea’s spokesperson said: “No, not at all. Nordea is grateful for his services within the field of sustainability. Sasja Beslik has been a highly valued employee for over 10 years. Working with sustainability is a journey that never stops. Sasja will leave with a strong team in place to continue this journey.”

Nordea is the largest financial services group in the Nordic region and one of the biggest banks in Europe; its fund management arm has €282.6bn in assets under management. Last year it was one of the founders of the Principles for Responsible Banking in collaboration with the United Nations.

In 2018 it changed its domicile from Sweden to Finland to become a member of the European banking union.

Separately, Nordea has named Helene Jepson as Chief Compliance Officer. She is currently Enterprise Chief Compliance Officer at First Republic Bank, San Francisco.