Questionable hiring practices in Asia causes Conflict of Interest for banks

The UK based Barclays Bank PLC has become the latest international bank to reveal that U.S. authorities are investigating some of their hiring practices in Asia – suggesting a conflict of interest. Sources indicate that Barclays Bank is alleged to have improperly recruited friends and family members of Asian government officials as well as top executives in the region with which the bank had previous dealings.

The Securities and Exchange Commission [SEC] is known to be already making inquiries into around a dozen banks in the U.S. and Europe regarding similar aspects of their foreign personnel recruiting. HSBC Holdings PLC has also recently disclosed that it had received information requests from the SEC as to their hiring practices around potential hires with ties to Asian government officials. Such inquiries by the SEC have been active since August 2013, when J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. disclosed that the SEC was likewise reviewing its hiring processes in Asia.

One recent report in the WSJ stated that J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. had hired friends and family members of executives at seventy-five percent of the major Chinese companies it helped take public in Hong Kong during the decade long boom in Chinese IPOs of major firms. The numbers reportedly came from a document compiled by the bank as part of a federal bribery investigation into the behaviour.

Other US Banks with operations in Hong Kong are rumoured to have hired friends and family members of senior executives at major Chinese companies, which were taken public in Hong Kong between 2005 and 2013. There are questions as to whether such hiring activity would breach current U.S. foreign-bribery laws.

“Sons and Daughters” China personnel hiring program

A 2015 inquiry by US Authorities further revealed the leading US bank J.P. Morgan had hired over 200 candidates said to be part of China’s business and political elite under a system supposedly known internally as “Sons and Daughters”. U.S. authorities are still investigating the program to determine whether this activity may have constituted bribery under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The FCPA makes it illegal for US companies to give anything of value to a foreign official with the intention of improperly influencing their decisions.

Such conflict of interests can occur when departments within an organisation take actions with disclosing sensitive issues to legal or compliance officers. Some of the Banks currently under investigation by the US Authorities may have pursued an advantage by recruiting personnel with insight to possible deals, without fully disclosing these personal connections to legal counsel within the banks. Failure to develop, or enforce, suitable Standard Operations Procedures [SOPs] regarding the method for hiring personnel, coupled with poor oversight by senior management and reporting structures probably contributed to this situation.

Tips for Avoiding a Conflict of Interest

  1. Have a system to check for conflicts of interest – make sure such checks are documented and all levels of managements are aware of the requirement for such checks
  2.  Even if there is no conflict at the start of a relationship, keep your radar on as the matter proceeds – and even after it ends. Some conflicts appear over time. Others may arise after the matter is concluded.
  3. Take action at the slightest hint of a conflict arising – Talk to any clients and management overseeing the matter at the first instance
  4. Don’t just keep silent and look the other way – encourage all levels of management to speak up once a problem arises
  5. Full disclosure and client briefings can often defuse a sticky situation and prevent a bad situation getting far worse

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