A senior executive at Standard Chartered bank has complained that bankers are being treated "like criminals" when money laundering rules are broken.
"Banks have been asked to play the role of policing anti-money laundering … [but when] we have a lapse we don't get treated like a policeman, we are treated like a criminal," Jaspal Bindra, who runs Standard Chartered's business in Asia, told Reuters.
The bank, listed in London but with extensive operations in emerging markets, was fined $667m (£395m) two years ago for lapses in its systems which allowed it to move billions of pounds to countries such as Iran and breach sanctions. On Wednesday, it revealed that the monitor imposed as part of this fine had uncovered new issues – which it claimed were of a less significant nature – that would likely lead to another fine for potential money laundering offences.
"The issue is not so much about whether the US is wrong or right, you have fines in every country, every regulator has fines, but it's the level of fines that is quite difficult for banks," Bindra said.
The bank said the remarks by Bindra reflected his personal views. Peter Sands, Standard Chartered chief executive, said on Wednesday when he was presenting the bank's results that he respected the views of regulators.
"We want to be clear that Jaspal's quote does not represent the bank's view on anti-money laundering or conduct regulation. As Peter said yesterday, Standard Chartered is fully committed to playing our role in supporting the regulatory conduct agenda and the fight against financial crime," the bank's spokesman said.
Standard Chartered's chairman Sir John Peace had to apologise last year for describing the events that led to the 2012 fine as "clerical errors".
One of the criticisms levelled since the crisis is that bankers have not been jailed for the errors that caused the financial crash. As a result, the British government is introducing a criminal offence for reckless behaviour when banks are collapsing.
Bindra's remarks come in a week in which the pace of regulatory change and demands imposed by regulators across the world have become the subject of public debate. Douglas Flint, the chairman of HSBC, on Monday used unusually strong language to warn of an "observable and growing danger of disproportionate risk aversion" among staff who were fearful of fines.
HSBC was also fined £1.2bn in 2012 for system failures that allowed the bank to launder money, including for Mexican drug cartels.
Flint complained that there are only 52 weekends in a year for bankers to complete the necessary systems changes to comply with new rules.
"I do not think we have ever had to ask so much of so many," said Flint. "The demands now being placed on the human capital of the firm and on our operational and systems capabilities are unprecedented."
Among other of the new rules being imposed on bankers in Britain, are those which reverse the burden of proof and require them to prove their innocence. These have been questioned by the boss of Lloyds Banking Group, António Horta-Osório. He told Sky News: "Enforcement and fines have an important role as a credible deterrent against future misconduct. But the new rules will potentially reverse the burden of proof where individuals are guilty until they prove themselves innocent in the eyes of the regulator.
"I worry that this could incentivise people to do nothing, as they could waste their time trying to create a paper trail rather than doing what they should be doing, focusing on customers," Horta-Osório said.
Andrew Tyrie, who chairs the Treasury select committee of MPs, has called on bankers to demonstrate that the industry was becoming too risk averse.
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