Candid comments reveal client-banker relationships

Twelve client notes that show the real people, real emotions, and real (sometimes First World) problems dotted through the Swiss Leaks files.

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.

 Read more about the impact from our investigations, and find out how you can support ICIJ's work

Email newsletter Find out first! Receive ICIJ's investigations by email

FinCEN Files
AWARDS

Lessons from award-winning FinCEN Files and Luanda Leaks investigations

Jul 23, 2021
European Parliament and EU flag
FINCEN FILES

EU to propose watchdog to tackle anti-money laundering failures exposed by FinCEN Files

Jul 16, 2021
Protesters in London outside the Chinese Embassy
CHINA CABLES

As global pressure over human rights abuses in Xinjiang picks up, China remains defiant 

Jul 15, 2021
MONEY LAUNDERING

On the decline since Panama Papers, Malta punished for dirty money reputation

Jul 08, 2021
Isabel dos Santos and Sindika Dokolo
LUANDA LEAKS

Dutch court sides with report calling dos Santos-linked energy deal an ‘act of corruption’

Jun 28, 2021
Dubai
MIDDLE EAST

Facing global pressure, UAE to begin fining violators of new corporate transparency rules

Jun 21, 2021
ICIJ is dedicated to ensuring all reports we publish are accurate. If you believe you have found an inaccuracy let us know.