In 2012, HSBC was fined $1.9 billion by the US government for failing to prevent customers laundering money through its network and breaching sanctions. This sanction prompted a series of internal communications campaigns to educate staff on the issue, but the bank also faced the challenge of keeping these fresh and impactful.
In 2016, HSBC’s global communications team was challenged to produce a series of films that re-ignited the anti-crime campaign and sent a simple message to the bank’s 230,000 employees: ‘YOU are vital to the fight against financial crime.’ It needed to show that stopping criminals abusing the bank’s systems was the responsibility of everyone.
Rather than using industry experts or producing interviews with key staff, the team decided to tell the story from the point of view of the criminals. They wanted them to explain how the bank’s staff could have stopped them. Obviously engaging directly with convicted criminals can be problematic, so the team needed to secure the backing of management. Group chief executive Stuart Gulliver gave his support.
At the request of the bank’s commercial team, the first film focused on accounting fraud: Accuracy vs Truth featured an accounting fraudster who had used false documents to commit one of America’s biggest ever frauds.
He explained how he had duped bankers and accountants, and stolen hundreds of millions of pounds. He also stated that, just by asking a few simple questions, bank staff could have spotted his crime. The second film Human Traﬃcking featured a subject that is a major concern for retail banking.
Although anti-trafficking charities warned that no trafficker would ever agree to a filmed interview, the team persisted, travelling to Montenegro where they met a former trafficker who explained how the system worked. He revealed how he had used banking to enslave his victims, and that banks could have stopped him. A victim of human trafficking also featured in the film; he explained how his traffickers used high street bank accounts to steal his wages.
Each film was fronted by a senior member of staff, who conducted in-depth interviews with the fraudsters to draw out the story of their crimes. The films enjoyed record viewing figures within HSBC; each was watched more than 100,000 times.
They were also played in every team meeting worldwide so that staff could discuss what they had seen and learned. They were also praised by the UK’s leading anti-trafficking charity while the director of EU’s law enforcement agency expressed admiration for the initiative.
As a result, HSBC is now changing its policies to ensure rescued victims of trafficking are helped as much as possible to restore their financial identity. Further films covering subjects such as drug trafficking and terrorist funding have also been commissioned.