Facebook Is Blacklisted at Nordea's Sustainable Investment Unit

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The biggest bank in the Nordic region will no longer let its sustainable investment unit buy more stock in Facebook Inc.

Nordea Bank AB has decided to “quarantine” Facebook investments in the asset management unit, “given the high-level revelations and the turmoil surrounding the company with a strong public backlash,” head of sustainable finance, Sasja Beslik, wrote on Twitter.

“One-offs, fine. Usually that’s something that a company can manage in a responsible way,” Beslik said by phone. “What we’re worried about are systemic issues” and how they “are managed” once they emerge, he said.

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Facebook is at the center of a political and market storm after it emerged that the social network provider released the personal data of 50 million users to an analytics firm that helped elect U.S. President Donald Trump. Facebook was sued in a San Francisco federal court on Tuesday by shareholders in a class action on allegations they suffered losses after the revelations. The company’s plight has wiped about $60 billion off its share value.

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Nordea’s sustainable investing arm is part of the bank’s $400 billion wealth management unit. Asked what Nordea would need to see from Facebook to lift its quarantine, Beslik said “a series of examples of how they are managing systemic risks related to data privacy in the operations.”

“That’s what needs to be shown to the market, and they also need to convince the market this is the risk that they’re actually managing in the operation,” he said. “Because this is probably not the only thing.”

There is “a whole range of systemic issues related to this,” Beslik said. “It’s time for them to step up.”

Other Nordic investors are reviewing their Facebook holdings. Matthew Smith, the head of sustainable investments at Storebrand of Norway, says the asset manager has in the past chosen to exclude companies because of similar scandals relating to the misuse of data by third parties. For now, it’s too early to take a stand on Facebook and the focus is on how the company is handling the situation, he told Bloomberg.

Lansforsakringar, which represents about two dozen Swedish mutual insurance firms, says it hasn’t yet decided what to do with its Facebook stake, but is “analyzing the situation,” according to a written response.

Beslik also said the time lag in the revelations was alarming. “This happened in 2016. How come we haven’t heard about this until now? There are many questions when these things happen. Is it only related to the U.S.? Have they been using the data for other elections? For other purposes? There are so many questions that pop up after this and so few answers.”

Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg plans to address employees on Friday. He has also been called on to respond to political demands for clarification. A representative from the U.K. parliament said Zuckerberg needs to explain the “catastrophic failure of process.” The European Parliament has sent a similar invitation.

In his Tweet, Nordea’s Beslik said part of the decision on Facebook was linked to the “overhanging threat of increasing regulation of the platforms” and the European Union’s new data protection rules.

Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg haven’t yet spoken publicly about the data leak.

Cambridge Analytica, the political consulting company behind the scandal engulfing Facebook, has suspended its CEO, Alexander Nix, after he was shown on video discussing entrapping politicians with bribes and prostitutes and spreading disinformation.

As head of Nordea’s sustainable investment arm, Beslik has in the past taken a stand on industries such as oil and once even stopped buying shares of Nordea itself in connection with allegations it helped clients avoid taxes.

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With Facebook, everything now “depends on the transparency,” Beslik said. “If they are transparent about what issues they have, and also what measures they’re taking, I think it can go fairly quickly, given the size they have and the importance they have. But if they don’t do that, it might hurt them even more.”

— With assistance by Jonas Cho Walsgard, and Hanna Hoikkala

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