HSBC’s aggressive courtship, depending on clients’ profile

Bank scripts tell story of clients ‘balanced’ or ‘conservative’, ‘zero’ or ‘high’ tolerance.

Written by Ritu Sarin | New Delhi | Published: February 10, 2015 4:01 am
HSBC’s France headquarters on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. (AP) HSBC’s France headquarters on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. (AP)

From purchasing a chalet in Switzerland to routing millions of dollars into a new numbered account, HSBC bankers have all answers for wealthy clients even as they woo prospective customers. This is evident from a reading of what the bank calls “scripts” and “customer profiles” which, in some cases, run into several pages for a client and are attached to a majority of account-opening statements.

Each telephone call and meeting is annotated in the HSBC scripts — the contacts listed are mostly between 2005 and 2006. In the account-holder sheet of an Indian living in London, the formula is annexed: first, clients are either categorised as “conservative”, “balanced” or seeking “absolute return”; and second, their risk tolerance is ticked as either “no tolerance”, “low tolerance”, “medium tolerance” or “high tolerance”.

Here is an example. After telephone calls, a banker has described Jayamadhukar Vadalkar, an Indian settled in the UAE (with a 2006-07 balance of $169.449) as “ very conservative” but notes that after 30 minutes, he received a call from his wife, co-holder of the account, about a 10 per cent guarantee on deposits a bank in Jersey was offering. The banker has added these notes: “I have understood that she is a little more aggressive than her husband and has a low tolerance of risks. To be followed and agended for February…”

A third categorisation is of the “product knowledge” of clients — about bank offerings such as mutual funds, equities, deposits, hedge funds and bonds. An aggressive marketing line is evident as HSBC staffers interact with account holders.

Take for instance the notes attached to the account statement of 47-year-old Indian Shah Nisha Sanjay, who lives in Tel Aviv, and had a 2006-07 balance of $1.52 million (Rs 9.45 crore). “The client has a good potential and will sell her house. The result of it will be transferred into our account.”

Or, the banker script that follows the account opening statement of  Ranjan Minesh Patel, a Gujarati housewife settled in the UK: “Client has brought GBP 25,000. Will create a BVI structure to hold the account. New money will come from other Swiss Bank, approximately GBP 100,000.”

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Account holder Kuldeep Kanaksinh Asher, an Indian settled in Oman, had a 2006-07 balance of $6.32 million (Rs 39.81 crore). After making a phone call to him, the HSBC official notes: “Client has USD 1 mio (million) in India and funds should come to us provided we come up with suitable investment proposals…”

In the case of another NRI client, the notes state that he has just sold a property and wants to deposit a cheque of approximately $5 million and transfer smaller amounts to other banks. The banker writes: “I told the client that we would remain at his disposal should he wish to transfer funds to us since our core activity is investments.”

Client profiling is almost intrusive, often after attending or hosting lunch and dinner meetings with clients across the globe. In the case of Prakash Sapra, a Mumbai-born merchant living in the UK, the HSBC banker has put down minute family details — down to the men playing golf, how while one son is married, the father is anxious about his second son’s marriage, that the grandfather living in India has diabetes. Notes made by the banker after an April 2005 visit to the family and a KYC check state “family run business, the father makes most of the decisions but the two sons will become more active in time…”

After a visit to Janaki Kishore Vithaldas, an account holder living in Mumbai — the client had a 2006-07 balance of $3.03 million (Rs 18.9 crore) — there is a description about how they want a Panamean company to be established, that the family is “multi banked” (this phrase comes up frequently in the scripts as HSBC staffers try to wean away clients from other banks). Also, that Vithaldas has a niece working with UBS in Zurich. The HSBC banker puts this on record: “Reluctant so far to transfer from his other bank accounts. We need to meet with niece, who is probably key to this challenge and who might be an interesting contact for our India desk.”

In several notes made by HSBC bankers, clients have been informed that the minimum benchmark for opening an US dollar account is one million and that this limit will have to be reached by new account holders within six months of opening the account.

One instruction to a client, Mumbai-born Hetal Shah, reads: “We outlined that we need a minimum of USD 1 million and that smaller amounts will have to be transferred to a special division.” Shah’s 2006-07 maximum balance was $160,203 (Rs 10.09 lakh).

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  1. R
    raj
    Feb 11, 2015 at 7:04 am
    Can you please tell me how on earth do you have the right to publish such details about private individuals, who don't live in India and hence have not violated any India laws. This article is based on stolen data and is gross and egregious violation of privacy. You guys deserve to be sued and taken to the cleaners for being an accessory after the fact to theft and criminality.
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