BSI Bank of Switzerland: Victim of Growth or Perpetrator of a Crime?
The case is set in May 2016 when the Monetary Authority of Singapore withdrew the merchant banking license of the Singapore branch of Swiss private bank BSI Ltd. The reasons cited were violation of anti-money laundering regulations, pervasive non-compliance and gross misconduct by staff. The closure of the bank was precipitated by an ongoing scandal around its biggest client, 1MDB, a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund spearheaded by the Prime Minister Najib Razak. At the same time, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority announced criminal proceedings against the BSI group for failure to conduct statutory due diligence on transactions involving hundreds of millions of dollars linked to 1MDB and slapped on a fine of CHF 95 million. The case provides an opportunity to analyze the factors that led to the demise of BSI, one of the oldest banks in Switzerland and the sixth largest in the country. Did the lure of lucrative business persuade it to cross the line in terms of ethics and regulatory requirements? BSI appears to have pursued top-line growth at the expense of compliance. To what extent was the senior management responsible? Could BSI have better managed the balance between risk management and its growth strategy? If so, how? Learning objective: To identify the contextual challenges of operating in complex high-growth markets. To understand the role of senior management in maintaining oversight. To recognize the balance between managing risk and compliance in pursuing aggressive targets. To assess the interface between the headquarters and the local subsidiary for functions such as audit, governance and conduct. To understand the global ramifications of a local breach.