Surviving in banking

Usually when I see the word ‘survivor’ next to an incumbent bank like HSBC, I expect to read of their valiant quest for relevance and efficiency - to survive in the face of the inevitable chasm of doom.

So I was pleasantly surprised to see HSBC announce “Survivor Bank” - a practical response to supporting victims of modern slavery and exploitation - in the UK.

The bank - along with other members of the European Banking Alliance - had committed in 2017 to challenge the global issue of human trafficking and exploitation by detecting and reporting suspicious patterns in financial activity that may be linked to human trafficking.

But this ‘Survivor Bank’ proposition - which was successfully piloted in some HSBC UK branches over the past 12 months - is an interesting evolution.

“It is a tragedy that people who have escaped their traffickers can face such a struggle to rebuild their lives,” Stuart Haire head of HSBC’s UK retail bank.

Anti-slavery NGO **Walk Free** estimates more than 45.8 million people are trapped in modern slavery worldwide. Trafficking and exploitation is a vast and highly profitable global business.

But at the human end of this complex network, the mandatory KYC/AML process banks typically follow can easily penalise victims of slavery and trafficking. Displaced from their original homes, with identity documents confiscated and with no proof of address, they find themselves excluded from the banking system.

This initiative is a great case study in how discretion can be systemized.

Before this, these unbanked were inevitably facing “computer says no” outcomes with their vicious cycle continuing indefinitely. But HSBC’s thoughtful approach - which shows regulatory compliance can be balanced with empathy - is a great example of how discretion can be systemized.

The number of people help involved is tiny so far - HSBC’s UK pilot helped 24 people - but with a national roll-out now underway and the possibility of extending to other countries, this is the right direction.

As Stuart Haire champions: “Making people better off.”

Kudos to HSBC for thoughtful and caring extension to a regulatory challenge.