Pressure groups have rallied together accusing HSBC of specifically victimising Syrians residing in the UK, due to mass numbers of Syrians across the UK being informed their bank accounts will be closed shortly.
Documents which have found their way to the public eye prove that HSBC distributed a number of letters amongst its Syrian clientele, informing them that their bank account will shortly become defunct and as such, to switch bank.
As justification for the move, the banking giant – which advertises itself as the ëWorldís Local Bankí ñ stated that ìincreased requirements for compliance with international obligations concerning payments to and from sanctioned countriesî played a defining role in their decision.
ìWe appreciate that you will be disappointed by this decision,î read the letters. ìWhilst we donít expect you to agree with the decision taken, we hope you understand that such decisions are a necessary part of the management and practices by which HSBC chooses to operate its business.î
Naturally, many Syrians settled across the UK seemed appalled by the matter, with the disappointment HSBC forecasted would permeate through its customer base, giving way to pure outrage and remonstration.
Leading the charge for the Syrians, were pressure groups Rapar and the Syrian Rethink Rebuild Society, both operating from Manchester, both of which claimed they have been steadily building a portfolio consisting of cases where Syrian natives have been abused by HSBC as a result of their nationality.
On its website Rapar said: “The Syrian community of Manchester has been subject to various accounts of profiling based on nationality, including police visits, airport stops, and the revoking of British nationality from dual nationals who travel to Syria. As a more recent development, financial institutions, most notably HSBC bank, have also been targeting their Syrian customers.”
The human rights group went on to state that it has “uncovered a pattern of abuse on behalf of HSBC in which the bank has turned down customers, inhibited or closed accounts, or refused mortgages for customers because their identity is Syrian.”
Not Personal, Just Business.
An accusation of such a serious nature comes at a tetchy time for HSBC regarding matters of racial discrimination, as just last week the banking giant informed Muslim organisations in North London that their accounts were being closed.
However, given the current political climate, it could be argued that the building society is purely trying to avoid being a medium by which Syrian nationals switch assets around to fund illicit activity, as opposed to acting with unadulterated racial prejudice.
A spokesman for the British Bankers’ Association said: “Banks are understandably cautious about transferring funds to Syria and it is no surprise that they maintain strict internal compliance policies and have invested in sophisticated ‘screening’ software to help them spot potential sanctions as well as terrorist financing issues.”
He added: “Many banks are operating an ‘exceptions only policy’ for transactions involving Syria ñ ie transactions will automatically be held for further scrutiny. As the situation deteriorates, transparency over arrangements with partners within Syria is reducing and satisfying due diligence will be increasingly challenging.”
HSBC can understand the feeling of being on wrong side of the law more than any lender as a result of the record 1.2bn it settled for following claims that it condoned Mexican drug cartels to sift money through its system.
As such, HSBCs denial of any racial prejudice impacting upon their decision to close Syrian nationalsí bank accounts carries slightly more weight ñ the legal action they have already faced would dissuade them from any high-risk transactions which could place them under further scrutiny in the eyes of the law.
An increasing number of bankers have voiced their discontent at doing business in countries notorious for high amounts of money laundering. Moreover, the severity of new sanctions imposed on bankers has caused uproar within the lending industry, with prominent figures lambasting new government moves. Only last week, Douglas Flint sent a letter to George Osborne, the Chancellor, both complaining and warning him of the dangers of excessive regulation.
A spokesman for HSBC refused to explain the procedures undertaken by the bank in its account reviewing process, however he did suggest the transfer of funds between the UK and Syria could be a potential drawback.
“There are compliance issues to deal with regard to countries where there are financial sanctions and we want to have very high standards in this area”: the spokesman said.
“If you have links to those countries with sanctions then those links may be looked into. There are times when a review of an account is needed and that is done on an individual basis”: He added.
Whilst the Syrians feel they have been persecuted in the main, is the move by HSBC a necessary evil? Time will certainly tell.