It seems banks have appetites too. And they call them ‘risk appetites’. Fall short of it, and you may just fall altogether. That’s what happened to a group of Muslim charities and organisations when HSBC sent notice of account closure with insufficient explanation.
Finsbury Park mosque, already blackened by their connection to Abu Hamza, are one of the affected account holders as are Ummah Welfare Trust (UWT), a charity well-known for their 100% donation policy; additionally, Anas Al Tikriti, founder of think-tank Cordoba Foundation, has also received notice of account closure and bizarrely, so have his wife and two children.
This isn’t the first time banks have shut down the accounts of Muslim organisations. In 2008, Barclays gave UWT notice of account closure, whilst in 2012, UBS shut down Islamic Relief’s account.
There is something tragically mistimed about these account terminations and one can’t help but question whether these organisations are being cautioned due to their support for the beleaguered Palestinians. Of course, this is a weighty claim. But given that UWT’s last account closure coincided with devastation and bloodshed in Gaza in 2008, the charity’s trustee, Muhammad Ahmad, calling it “more than just a coincidence” could not be considered blameworthy.
Muslim charities are at risk of being seen as the funders of terrorism if their fundraising for Palestinians results in financing Hamas, whether it is unwittingly or not. This is an accusation that UWT had to deal with when they supported the Palestinian charity, Interpal. But given that UWT have been cleared of such allegations, HSBC’s actions seem rather perplexing; in this situation, the late Tony Benn comes to mind as he bemoaned during a BBC interview that Hamas’ name has been used as a justification for halting funds and supplies reaching Palestinian civilians.
Although HSBC have spoken of a ‘risk appetite’, they showed little reservation when funding financial institutions in Saudi Arabia that had potential links to terrorism. It also seems that this ‘risk appetite’ was non-existent when the business of Mexican drug cartels allowed criminals to launder their money through HSBC accounts in Cayman Islands.
One could argue that it isn’t necessarily the bank’s fault and due to the atmosphere of fear and suspicion that encircles Muslims, banks have had to become more vigilant to reduce the chances of unwittingly financing terrorism. However, there’s a clear pattern emerging here. HSBC have targeted a number of Muslim organisations with their letters of account closure with no preceding warning or method of contact. In the case of an individual’s account, many banks will arrange a meeting with the bank manager of their local branch if there is a cause for concern; sending a letter informing their customers of drastic action is simply a poor business strategy. Most interesting to note is that these organisations haven’t been offered any opportunity to appeal HSBC’s decision, which only seems to indicate that the issue runs far deeper than these organisations simply being unprofitable for the bank and its investors.
Beyond the ideologically-framed debate of Islamophobia in Britain, there is the sadness that Muslims in Britain are being given increasingly fewer opportunities to help their fellow brethren in Palestine and Syria by being alienated from providing assistance even in monetary form. Whilst it is inadvisable to personally travel to such countries to deliver aid on many levels, it seems that providing relief to the innocent civilians caught between the crossfire via charitable means is also considered a grave crime. HSBC’s behaviour, however much they choose to deny it, is proof of discrimination. It would be interesting to see if Red Cross and other charities will receive a warning letter of account closure for providing aid to Gaza.
The irony truly lies in the fact that HSBC have represented themselves as the ‘world’s local bank’ – their website advertises appealing and colourful pictures of a global, diverse community all banking with each other in cosmopolitan harmony. This is supposed to be a bank that is famed for its adverts apparently showing people ‘the other side of the story’. They were highly commended for providing their now defunct Muslim-friendly mortgages and bank accounts and whilst these services may have been for business purposes (such as wealthy Muslim investors), in an increasingly prejudiced world, they were regarded as tolerant and approachable.
Following this decision, it’s become rather evident that HSBC’s advertising department have had little success in convincing their directors of what the other side of the story really is; their image of being the world’s most diverse bank is clearly a farce.
At the crux of all of this, it’s not simply a case of whether these organisations are providing monetary aid and support to questionable recipients. This emerging pattern seems to target and demonise Muslim organisations simply on the basis of being Muslim – as far as UWT are concerned, their records are clean and clear and there is little doubt that their donations are going to those most in need; their association with Interpal no longer exists and this has been confirmed by the UK’s Charity Commisson.
It is unclear as to what exactly is affecting HSBC’s ‘risk appetite’, but their recent behaviour seems to be running against their reputation for being the bastion of diversity.