HSBC apology adverts give pause for thought

Bank put its ‘Guardian’ advertising ‘on pause’ during Swiss leaks investigation

The public apology from HSBC carried in newspaper advertisements last Sunday looks a bit different now that it has been reported that the global bank put its advertising spend with the Guardian "on pause" while that newspaper was pursuing its inquiries into what the institution was up to in Switzerland.

"We must show we understand that the societies we serve expect more from us," said chief executive Stuart Gulliver in the advertisements. "We therefore offer our sincerest apologies."

The apology followed the same vein as the lengthy statement issued to The Irish Times and the other media partners involved in the Swiss leaks project organised by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). In that statement the bank said that after it had purchased the Geneva business, it failed to adequately merge it with the rest of the global bank and impose the superior compliance culture that it implied existed elsewhere in the group.

The statement did not choose to explain how compliance was also so lacking in the US, where Mexican drug dealers found the bank to be a useful channel for money laundering.


When the ICIJ first approached the bank in relation to the Swiss leaks project, it was told that the leaked data at the core of the project had been stolen and should be destroyed.

The revelation about HSBC's advertising "pause" with the Guardian came with the news that the Daily Telegraph's chief political commentator, Peter Oborne, has resigned, accusing his former employer of having played down the HSBC scandal because of concerns that the bank might otherwise reduce advertising through that group.

So much, then, for sincere apologies. A more accurate insight into the bank’s outlook is probably contained in what Gulliver said late last year, in reference to the record fines imposed then on the bank in the US and elsewhere. The scandals would continue to hit profits, he said, but HSBC was “still phenomenally profitable and cash generative in spite of those things”.