2 Feb 2016

HSBC subsidiary hired senior staff with unaccredited degrees

Two senior compliance staff hired by HSBC Saudi Arabia, a subsidiary of the main British bank, have unaccredited business degrees, a Channel 4 News investigation finds.

Two senior compliance staff hired by HSBC Saudi Arabia, a subsidiary of the main British bank, have unaccredited business degrees, a Channel 4 News investigation finds.

Two people in this department at HSBC’s Saudi branch, which manages a multi-billion dollar investment fund, lack the accredited bachelor’s degree necessary even to apply for an entry-level position at the bank, based on its current hiring guidance.

Compliance failings have cost British bank HSBC over a billion pounds in fines worldwide – it has settled claims of flouting money-laundering controls in the US to aid Mexican drug cartels through to tax avoidance in its Swiss subsidiary and foreign exchange markets rigging.

HSBC subsequently hired thousands of new compliance staff worldwide.

Channel 4 News has found dozens of Saudi staff working at international finance firms across the industry listing questionable qualifications from unaccredited institutions.

Degree from “Kensington University”

Ashraf BinAli, formerly head of regulatory and financial crime compliance at HSBC Saudi Arabia, was hired by the subsidiary in early 2015.

He has a business degree from “Kensington University”, a bogus institution with no official accreditation in the state of California to operate as a university – meaning its standards are not externally checked.

Mr BinAli’s only degree listed online came from this institution, which was an Internet distance learning provider and which no longer exists.

It was forced out of business in California by the state regulator during a crackdown on unaccredited institutions, and subsequently banned from operating in Hawaii in 2003.

It was never officially accredited by the agencies that check the standards of universities in the US.

His email address is still listed on the Saudi official register as the compliance officer overseeing its multi-billion dollar mutual funds.

This week, he has removed the bogus qualification from his social media profiles. HSBC told Channel 4 News that separate to this investigation, he had recently resigned.

HSBC Saudi Arabia told Channel 4 News: “Senior compliance officers are required to be registered with the relevant regulator after passing professional examinations. Mr BinAli is an experienced professional with more than 18 years of compliance experience.

“This was the basis for his appointment as Head of Regulatory & Financial Crime Compliance. Independent to this inquiry, Mr BinAli resigned from the company on 14 January 2016.”

Another member of staff working at the HSBC Saudi Arabia compliance department – who Channel 4 News has decided not to name – also lists a degree from an unaccredited institution.

However, the staff member in question has taken several professional qualifications as well. It’s unclear exactly how much academic work either of these staff completed for their degrees or how comprehensive the syllabus that they followed would have been, only that the standards of these universities were not being officially checked.

Saudi Arabia moves away from oil

They are among dozens of people who appear to work across the country’s finance sector listing degrees from bogus universities.

In order to work at Saudi financial institutions you are required to pass exams set by the country’s regulator.

HSBC Saudi Arabia is a part-owned subsidiary of HSBC, which owns 49 per cent of the investment bank, and the Saudi-British Bank which owns 51 per cent.

The Saudi-British Bank is itself 40 per cent owned by HSBC. Saudi Arabia opened its stock markets to limited foreign investment last year.

As it hopes to diversify its economy away from oil, it will be relying heavily on financial services and banks to assist the process.

By Mike Smith (@mikesmithc4)