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Communication Violations Lead to Fines Exceeding $2.5 Billion for Wells Fargo and BNP Paribas

by Rahil M
0 comment

Wells Fargo & Co. and BNP Paribas SA are set to face substantial penalties, collectively amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, due to their employees’ use of unofficial communication platforms like WhatsApp, personal texts, or email for conducting business.

Wells Fargo & Co. and BNP Paribas SA are set to face huge fines, due to their employees’ use of unofficial communication platforms. This move marks the latest step in US regulatory efforts to address Wall Street’s recurring failure to maintain proper records.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revealed that three units of Wells Fargo have agreed to pay a cumulative sum of $125 million. Similarly, BNP Paribas will be paying $35 million, as stated by the regulator on Tuesday. In addition, both banks will individually pay $75 million over violations involving their derivative brokers, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).

The CFTC’s announcement encompasses penalties totaling $266 million, while the SEC disclosed that the implicated firms have committed to pay $289 million. This collectively brings the fines related to investigations into messaging practices to over $2.5 billion since December 2021, marking one of the most extensive financial enforcement endeavors of the past decade.

What began as an examination of trading desks’ use of chat applications has now evolved into a broader scrutiny of the financial sector’s utilization of any communication tools that fail to appropriately save records. This expanded focus has led to investigations into the use of personal communication apps by private equity firms and hedge funds.

Laurie Kight, spokesperson for Wells Fargo, stated that the company is content with resolving the matter. On the other hand, BNP declined to provide any comment.

SEC officials underlined that they are well aware of other companies that have not been adhering to compliance requirements. Gurbir Grewal, the SEC’s head of enforcement, stated, “So here are three takeaways for those firms who haven’t yet done so: self-report, cooperate, and remediate. If you adopt that playbook, you’ll have a better outcome than if you wait for us to come calling.”

While the penalties announced on Tuesday are significant, they are not the culmination of regulatory efforts aimed at curbing the usage of unmonitored messaging apps on Wall Street. Numerous firms, including Fifth Third Bancorp, Truist Financial Corp., Apollo Global Management Inc., and Carlyle Group Inc., have disclosed that regulators are examining their messaging practices.

Financial institutions are mandated to monitor and archive communications related to their business operations to prevent illicit conduct. When such practices are not followed, regulators argue that investigating wrongdoing becomes considerably more challenging. This task is further complicated when bankers resort to messaging tools that automatically delete communications.

The latest actions follow a series of cases announced in September of the prior year. During that period, the SEC imposed fines totaling $1.1 billion on companies like Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Simultaneously, the CFTC stated that firms would pay $710 million in penalties. In subsequent months, HSBC Holdings Plc and Scoatiabank settled similar investigations, paying fines of $45 million and $22.5 million, respectively.

The SEC’s recent announcement revealed that its investigation unveiled “pervasive and longstanding off-channel communications.” As part of the settlements, the implicated companies admitted to their employees utilizing platforms such as iMessage, WhatsApp, and Signal for business discussions. Inadequate record-keeping was identified by the SEC as a key issue. The CFTC confirmed similar violations.

Among the prominent firms agreeing to settlements on Tuesday were subsidiaries of Societe Generale SA, Mizuho Financial Group, and Bank of Montreal. A spokesperson for the Bank of Montreal emphasized that the company has substantially enhanced compliance procedures in recent years and expressed contentment at having resolved the probe. Other entities involved declined to comment on the settlements.

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