International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

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Candid comments reveal client-banker relationships

HSBC Bank

The exchanges between staff and clients of HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) reveal damning evidence of tax evasion and wrongdoing by certain HSBC clients. These conversations, which were never supposed to be made public, go to the heart of Swiss Leaks.

But the candid comments recorded by bank employees about their interactions with clients also reveal personal sides to the relationships between employees and clients of a bank that, in HSBC’s own words, was “typically used by wealthy individuals to manage their wealth in a discreet manner.”

While many client notes were business-like, describing simple transactions or investment instructions, other, more intimate exchanges were liberally scattered throughout the leak. These notes ran the gamut of human experience and emotion, and served as a constant reminder that, behind the dollar amounts and the intricate accounts, both clients and their account managers were real people, with every-day issues (albeit often very “First World problems”), observances, and inclinations.

The below excerpts are just a handful of interesting comments made by bankers, revealing their own feelings about clients (whether in words or syntax), as well as giving an insight into how some clients valued the service provided by the bank.

Problem clients

  • “Very difficult client! He will travel to Moscow and Kiev and spend 2 months there to produce a film on Russian girls wanting to emigrate!!!!!!” 
  • “I AGAIN INDICATED THAT WE WERE NOT TAX INSPECTORS AND THAT IT WAS NOT MY FAULT HE WAS CANADIAN IN NATIONALITY. I INDICATED THAT I WAS UNABLE TO WORK MIRACLES….I AM NO LONGER WILLING TO KEEP MAKING AN EFFORT FOR SUCH A PERSON. THE PROBLEMS ARE ALL HIS MAKING AND RESULT FROM INSECURITY.” 
  • “I tried my best to calm this client but he was disappointed and angry that nothing could have been done at this stage. I felt that he had to loose his anger on somebody.” 

Generous clients

  • “Client handed over red packet containing HK$ 4'000 [$513] …as a rule, I cannot refuse such a gift but will donate all proceeds to … & b) Child's Dream.” 
  • “For our client, who is Cinderella in person, from a poor Greek family who married a wealthy man with whom she was very happy, it is quite understandable that, with no offspring, she wishes to pass assets that she has to less privileged members of her family.” 
  • “He was positive and although he indicated that his business was down he was still developing the luxury spa where we eat.” 

Discreet clients

  • “We are prohibited from calling the client in Belgium. It’s always him who calls us. He telephoned today. He introduces himself under the name of a footballer (Zidane, Cruyf ...); wants to know the “price of caviar,” which means the total value of his assets. 
  • “Mentioned they are very concerned with confidentiality and security, his wife has already been kidnapped right after their marriage and was found by the police…brother has also been kidnapped.” 

Expansive clients

  • “She explained to us a little of their history. He asked her to marry him three times when they were young. She always refused. They’ve stayed good friends. But he’s never wanted to know any of her successive husbands (she’s had three).” 
  • “He has been a ‘workaholic’ all his life and has trouble slowing down. He doesn’t have any hobbies but loves Europe and Paris in particular.” 
  • “A huge disagreement exists with his wife, and it’s possible there will be a divorce. The wife has no idea about anything to do with the account.” 
  • “He shared with us his concerns about the ongoing divorce proceedings. His (ex)wife harasses him. She’s denounced him to the taxman.” 

Editor's note: These comments are verbatim from the HSBC Swiss Leaks files, however ICIJ has corrected spelling errors and removed names or identifying features.

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