Credit Suisse Tax Evasion Fine is Just That: Fine

 Credit Suisse Tax Evasion Fine is Just That: Fine

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the US government, which gave its PR team little to work with.

Credit Suisse pled guilty this week to helping more than 22,000 Americans evade taxes by stashing their cash in Swiss bank accounts — a notable event on several levels, PR included.

The deal represents the first criminal conviction of a major global bank in more than a decade. Criminal charges, it has been widely thought, are a death knell for institutions that cop to them. Credit Suisse agreed to pay $2.6 billion — the largest penalty ever in a US criminal tax case. Prosecutors huffed and puffed about how significant this plea is: US Attorney General Eric Holder warned, “No bank is too big to jail.”

But…nobody’s going to jail, at least nobody at the top. While the conviction generated a lot of media, the general impression is: It’s not so bad. Credit Suisse wasn’t forced to reveal any client names, and it can keep operating in the US. The bank’s CEO told analysts he expects little business impact from the agreement. Indeed, Credit Suisse stock actually rose after the deal was announced.

No doubt the US faced a conundrum: Regulators wanted to inflict serious pain, but too harsh a penalty might be so destabilizing as to spark unintended (and unwelcome) consequences. After all, the threat of banking failures precipitated the last global recession. So they walked a line — and that’s exactly how the media read it.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the US government, which gave its PR team little to work with.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Actions speak louder than words. Are we really shocked, shocked, to discover that Swiss banks help people hide money? Yes, the fine is big, but even the general public has become inured to banks paying massive sums. If the US really wanted to send a message to tax evaders and the banks who love them, regulators needed to be more visible: name-and-shame clients, or put some white collars in orange jumpsuits. There’s nothing like a CEO in handcuffs to really command attention.

US vs. HSBC: Two PR Punches for the Price of One

 US vs. HSBC: Two PR Punches for the Price of One

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for the US government.

Everybody likes two bites at the PR cherry, and US prosecutors may have had their way when it comes to the latest fines levied against British banking giant HSBC. The headlines that HSBC was set to pay a record $1.9 billion penalty for ignoring possible money laundering came out on Tuesday. The announcement wasn’t official, but mysteriously there it was, hours before the official drop date.

News this big can’t be kept under wraps for long. HSBC was expected to agree to pay $1.9 billion to settle a probe in connection with money laundering from narcotics traffickers in Mexico. Also alleged was that HSBC intentionally allowed prohibited transactions with Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Burma while facilitating transactions with Cuba. Headline-making stuff.

Tuesday’s papers carried front-page stories with astonishing levels of detail, helpfully provided by the very trusty “people briefed on the matter.” Once the news was out, Wednesday ‘s media coverage gave even more detail. “HSBC is being held accountable for stunning failures of oversight — and worse — that led the bank to permit narcotics traffickers and others to launder hundreds of millions of dollars,” read the official government statement on day two. Not unlike statements from the previous day, only this time it wasn’t attributed to someone “briefed on the matter.”

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) to the US government for what seems like a well-orchestrated PR campaign to maximize publicity.

The PR Takeaway: For really big news, use the “Curtain Raiser.” The old PR trick of releasing information the day before the official launch can not only give useful indications of market reactions but, as in this case, allows the headlines to announce the big numbers on day one and stretch the news to a second day by providing more detail. Maximum publicity for the prosecution; as anyone knows, more is better than less.

Wal-Mart, Anything You Would Like to Say?

walmart Wal Mart, Anything You Would Like to Say?

The PR Verdict: “A” for Wal-Mart and an elegant way to decline comment.

Big trouble ahead for retailer Wal-Mart.  The firm is reeling from Sunday’s NYTimes which claimed that as far back as 2005, Wal-Mart’s big wigs learned of allegations of widespread bribery of government officials in Mexico by its own peeps but did nothing about it.

At heart is an allegation that the internal review conducted by Wal-Mart at the time was a whitewash.  Allegedly conducted by some of the very same people who stood accused of paying up to $25 million in bribes, the NYTimes suggests the firm not only failed to investigate the matter properly but also failed to notify the relevant authorities.  In so doing the firm and its management are now potentially exposed to seriously punitive penalties.

What to say to the NYTimes?  Priority one in a case like this is to buy time and establish distance between what is alleged and where the company is now.  Wal-Mart’s besieged PR commented, “If these allegations are true, it is not a reflection of who we are or what we stand for.  We are deeply concerned by the allegations and are working aggressively to determine what happened.”

The PR Verdict: “A” for Wal-Mart’s response,  an elegant way to decline comment.  As an immediate PR response it established the allegations are unclear, circumstances vague and not what the firm is about.

PR Takeaway:  When in doubt buy time and create distance from the allegation.  While a legal investigation and fallout could take years, the damage to the stock price, relations with regulators and overall reputation will start hurting immediately.  There is very little time.  Suspend or remove the implicated management from the day-to-day workings of the firm.  The faster Wal-Mart can say that was then, this is now, the better for its stockholders.  This is going to be a crisis communications strategy that will have to run and run.

To read the original article click here and to read more click here.

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