Habib Bank Expelled From New York

9 09 2017

The case of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which had fairy tale beginnings and patronage from the ruler of Dubai, is an historic example of a global private Pakistani bank that was shut down because of large-scale financial crime and money laundering. BCCI gave other lenders “bad vibes” and quickly acquired the nickname “the bank of Crooks and Criminals”. The closure of BCCI gave rise to the most costly and extravagant litigation in a generation. Indeed, as the late Lord Bingham discerned, investigating BCCI’s global malpractice “if a possible task, is one which would take many years to carry out”. Now the story seems to be repeating itself with Habib Bank – Pakistan’s largest bank headquartered in Karachi with $24bn worth of balance sheet assets and $1bn in annual revenue – which has been fined $225m because its New York branch failed to comply with New York laws and regulations designed to combat money laundering, terrorist financing, and other illicit financial transactions. Compliance failures were said to have “opened the door” to financing Saudi sponsored terrorism. Transactions were “batch waived” and management was unable to explain their actions. The news comes just days after the announcement that the Department of Financial Services (DFS) is seeking to enforce a civil monetary penalty of $629.625m on the bank. These enforcement actions by the DFS are a grim reminder of the poor culture plaguing banks and misconduct besetting financial institutions. DFS said it would not let the bank “sneak out” of the US without due accountability. In terms of culpability, the failures can be classified as “corporate integrity-related regulatory breach” and/or “imputed breach” events.

Because of significant weaknesses in the its risk management capabilities, the branch received the lowest possible rating of “5” in the latest compliance assessment conducted in 2016. The case for using conduct costs as a framework for analysing in the banking sector in Pakistan has already been articulated on this blog. If anything, the fines imposed by DFS certainly make Habib Bank the foremost – i.e. number “1” –financial institution for poor conduct in Pakistan itself. But of course it is equally true that Habib Bank’s delinquencies are surpassed by the toxic level of failings connected to the £264bn in conduct costs incurred by the world’s foremost international banks including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Lloyds Banking Group, Barclays, HSBC and so forth. As Lord King aptly puts it a decade after the global financial crisis: “Very smart people thought it was fun and completely acceptable to exploit less smart people.” The scale of poor conduct in the New York branch, which processed banking transactions worth a total of $287bn in 2015, raises serious questions about the state of affairs in the banking sector in Pakistan itself where corruption is widespread and regulation is diluted in comparison to the West. Read the rest of this entry »