The number of staff choosing to anonymously report wrongdoing at HSBC has risen for the third consecutive year, with the UK’s largest bank receiving more than 2,800 whistleblowing tip-offs in 2019.
Campaigners say the increase is an encouraging sign that bankers are becoming more confident about speaking up in an industry where whistleblowers have traditionally found it difficult to raise concerns.
HSBC launched HSBC Confidential, which brought together several existing systems that allow whistleblowers to confidentially come forward — including telephones, online portals and emails — in August 2015.
Since then, instances of whistleblowing at the bank have gone up steadily. In 2019, employees at HSBC raised 2,808 cases, compared with 2,068 in 2018, 1,585 in 2017 and 1,102 in 2016. In its report, HSBC put the increases down to rising awareness and confidence among its staff in its procedures.
The bank said: “We continued to promote the group’s whistleblowing arrangements through training in 2019, and this has contributed to the increase in the number of cases raised compared with 2018.”
Last year, around a third of the tip-offs HSBC received were found to be “substantiated or partially substantiated” — a proportion that has held fairly steady since the new service was launched.
According to the bank’s survey of its staff, 89% of employees said they know how to use the whistleblowing system and 65% said they have “full confidence” that they can raise concerns without fear of reprisal or retaliation.
“We have more to do to assure … that we do not condone or tolerate retaliation against people who raise concerns, and that we strictly enforce our policy relating to this,” the bank said.
The increase, which makes a notable contrast with rival Barclays, could prove to be a positive sign, according to Mary Inman, who works with whistleblowers at law firm Constantine Cannon. She said: “Any upward increase tends to be a positive sign, as long as it’s coupled with what we would hope to be a strong compliance culture.”
“It’s interesting to see the contrast between HSBC and Barclays,” Inman added. “The number there has gone down which suggests they aren’t healthy, what Staley did [trying to uncover the identity of a whistleblower] will take a while to repair.”
Andrew Samuels, founding partner of the whistleblowing consultancy Addveritas, said it was “encouraging to see a global bank recognise the benefits of listening to and protecting those that speak up”. He added: “It will be interesting to see how other banks perform in comparison and how the FCA will utilise this information to improve their own supervision and enforcement capabilities where financial institutions are not up to par.”
HSBC said that 77% of its closed cases in 2019 related to behaviour and conduct, 17% to security and fraud, 5% to compliance and 1% to “other” categories.
This is the fourth year that the bank has published the number of cases it has received in its annual report — the only FTSE100 bank to do so.
Last week, HSBC announced a three-year plan to restructure its business that will see it dump $100bn in assets and cut 35,000 jobs. The overhaul will focus heavily on HSBC’s investment bank in London, which came under attack in 2018 from a group of anonymous bankers unhappy with the way parts of the division were being run.
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