Backstory: What Happened at HSBC

Thursday, July 19, 2012

This week the Senate held hearings on HSBC’s failure to halt illegal foreign transactions involving Mexican drug traffickers and Middle Eastern banks with suspected ties to terrorists. Tom Easton, the New York finance and economics correspondent for The Economist, talks about why the bank was overwhelmed by compliance demands of so many different countries—and why its competitors may be as well.


Tom Easton

Comments [4]

apollobartender from Michigan

Didn't all the HSBC principals just rename themselves Graycliff Partners and start over ? Yeah, I believe that they are now touting their skills in the middle market equity markets and opened up in Latin America as well. They will probably go on to do business with 'clean hands' and nothing will come of all of this. Isn't that business as usual on Wall STreet?

Jul. 31 2012 05:33 AM
prudencedogood from Queens

What the guest fails to mention is that the major banks in New York and London for years have been actively complicit in laundering dirty money; one reason regulations are tough to write is that they have spend millions of dollars in lobbying to make sure no one tries to write such laws. Why do I think that if 10 of the top bankers in London and New York were each sentenced to 10 years in prison, somehow solving this problem would become a lot easier?

They are involved in a RICO conspiracy that almost makes me feel sorry for the amateurs at the Bank of Kabul.

Given that no one actually knows just how immense the world's illicit "black economy" really is, it's interesting to wonder about just how many of the big banks are now addicted to that economy for their continued profits? And how soon will new banking networks cut into the take of the dinosaurs in London and New York, whose resistance to regulation only makes life that much easier for their emerging competitors?

In short: How soon before we see ads for the "First National Bank of the Zetas" and "Bane Capital" on the sides of NYC buses? And it will all be made possible thanks to the simple-minded greed of the dinosaurs.

Jul. 23 2012 09:42 AM
John A from Brooklyn

This piece was such a good example of what makes Leonard's show impressive, and why public radio matters; I'm glad to be an active, financial supporter.

I know a fair amount about this topic, and I believe that Tom Easton gave a clear -- or, as clear as is possible in a few minutes -- explanation to a generalist audience about what really happened. As with most issues, the more you know, the more complicated it is. It's really tempting to say "shut them down" or "fine them" or "stop dealing with any bank that operates in Saudi Arabia," but these really are complex issues and any action can have unintended consequences.

Are we going to then not allow Boeing to get paid for planes it sells to Saudi Airlines? Or, do we say, fine, let Airbus get that business? Financial companies account for about 30% of U.S. profits, and that means that they -- and their employees -- pay a lot of taxes. As we want to restrict their ability, what will the effect be on our deficit, and banks' willingness to lend to local small businesses (who employ local people), etc.?

I'm not saying that HSBC is good, or that they shouldn't be punished. I'm not opposed to banking regs; personally, I'd like to see them get stronger and enforced more effectively. I'm just agreeing with Tom Easton that this is stuff isn't simple, and that any action we take will have more implications than we can currently foresee. And, I give lots of credit to Leonard Lopate and WNYC for presenting a fairly comprehensive, educated discussion of these complex issues.

Jul. 19 2012 02:11 PM
Jon from West Village

This speaks to general naivety that the average American has.

If you call an HSBC office TODAY in say, HK, (and you have some kind of references) you can begin a candid conversation about hiding money from US authorities or a not-so-vague conversation about laundering money.

Believe me, I've been solicited by these and other bankers. They will tell you up-front that hiding and fixing money is what they do.

This is what goes on all through the international banking community.

All said, I don't envy anyone trying to do any kind of banking in Mexico -- it's worse than any concept like 'wild-west' would conjure up.

Jul. 19 2012 01:51 PM

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