HSBC officials submitted to a public shaming in Washington last week following a year-long enquiry regarding the ways in which the international conglomerate conducts its business.
The enquiry – overseen by a committee of US Senators – reported on 17 July that HSBC had overseen the transfer of around $19.4 billion in Iranian funds so that its government officials could avoid US sanctions. Likewise, the bank has been accused of laundering billions of dollars’ worth of cash sourced from Mexico’s most infamous drug cartels – not to mention carrying out similar activities for various suspected terrorists, members of the Taliban, North Korean officials and a wide range of other unscrupulous characters. Needless to say, the American people are utterly shocked by the multinational bank’s apparent disreputable business practices; however, should the world truly be as surprised by the bank’s actions as they are pretending to be?
Above all else, HSBC is a business – and, just as their advertisements indicate, they very well may epitomise the idea of the multinational conglomerate. Based in London, the super-bank is the second largest banking institution and public company in the world. In fact, HSBC manages over 7,200 offices in 85 nations throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America that serve around 89 million customers. Given the organisation’s intimidatingly-large reach, it should hardly surprise anyone to know that its assets currently hover at around $2.637 trillion – nor should it surprise anyone to know that of those 89 million customers, there are bound to be more than a few bad apples.
After being scolded by the Congressional Committee, HSBC officials have undeniably acted accordingly. They immediately shut down their bulk money transfer business that was responsible for laundering drug money, fired one of their board members, appointed several new ones and increased their anti-laundering activity budget over nine fold. Indeed, not one board member who appeared before Congress offered a single argument in defence of the bank’s actions, but instead tossed apologies at the committee left and right.
That being said, if US Senators truly believe that publicly shaming a few banking giants into early retirement will rid their soil of blood money, they should prepare for disappointment. True enough, HSBC has closed 326 partnerships with other banks – as well as the individual accounts of over 14,000 customers – that fail to meet their newly appointed Congressional standards; however, the inherent nature of HSBC’s global status will ensure that money continues to trade hands between the American people and its enemies at an ever-increasing rate.
HSBC operates in many nations with strict privacy laws regarding the concealment of customer identities and the nature of their holdings, and no amount of red tape imposed upon such institutions by the US government will ever allow for the sort of transparency that the American people so crave. Yet as previously stated, those very same concerned citizens would likely cringe if they had any clue as to where the majority of their pocket-money has been. Indeed, via six degrees of separation, Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden’s private holdings can no doubt be loosely traced back to a modern-day American banking institution that is frequented by the same US Senators who are tirelessly wagging their fingers at HSBC.
Fact: there is no such thing as small, nationalised industry anymore – and the sooner that God-fearing, American isolationists can grasp a hold of this concept, the sooner that Congress can spend time working to solve bigger and more sustainable issues surrounding the world’s crippled banking industry. In fact, HSBC officials were most likely thrilled that it was their clientele of all things that the American government chose to pick on, because said issue has been simply and languidly resolved with just a few dozen clicks. Now Congress feels as if they have somehow made a difference, and HSBC is able to start a new – and heavily publicised – chapter of apparent transparency that lovingly supports the American fight against terror; however, it’s probably safe to assume that HSBC has got more than a few skeletons in their closet that are astronomically more worrying than whether or not the institution indirectly oversees the transfer of “blood money”.
Just because money once belonging to an anti-American politician ends up in HSBC’s American revenue stream does not mean that the bank directly funds terror. After all, HSBC employees have donated copious amounts of money to both the Romney and Obama campaigns – does this mean that Iran is secretly funding one candidate, whilst the Taliban is funding the other? No, because money changes hands, and there’s nothing that the American government can do about it. If Iranian officials were clever enough to use HSBC in order to tiptoe around US sanctions once, then getting dropped by the bank should pose only a minor inconvenience, as there are literally a handful of like-minded global institutions three doors down that will perform the exact same tasks. Meanwhile, if the American people are so concerned about just how much blood may be staining their money, perhaps they should take the time in order to contemplate just how many innocent civilians have been killed abroad on their tax dollar – or more locally, which bank is being used by their friendly neighbourhood sex offenders.
“Bad” people have bank accounts and spend their money just like “good” people do – and, in turn, the banks who manage those people’s money are bound to invest it abroad. Could it indirectly fund terror? Not even the terrorists have any way of knowing, but US Senators can slap bankers on the wrist all they want and still never rid US soil of the anti-American money that allows it to prosper. At the end of the day, business is business – and foreign investors don’t care about the source of their capital nearly as much as they pretend to. After all, if time has proven anything, it is that no two dollars are invested in any one country, and banks do not deal in morals. As a result, rather than to continue wasting valuable time conducting McCarthy-esque witch hunts, perhaps angry US Senators would be better suited to adopt said mantra and focus their attention on more viable issues such as Libor reform.