HSBC Holdings is being investigated by US regulators amid allegations that staff used messaging platforms such as WhatsApp to send sensitive work messages.
In the company’s annual report published this week, it said it was cooperating with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), a financial services regulator in the US.
CEO Noel Quinn told Bloomberg that the CFTC and other financial bodies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission were conducting a “general” probe into all financial institutions, not just HSBC.
“They’re looking at the use of mobiles and WhatsApp and text messages to make sure it’s appropriate,” he said.
Chief financial officer Ewen Stevenson told the business news website that the banking group has “internal procedures and requirements as to the use of non-bank platforms”.
On WhatsApp, all conversations are end-to-end encrypted, meaning only those in the chat can access the messages. This means they can escape scrutiny, unlike company emails which can be saved by IT departments even if deleted.
In December 2021, JPMorgan Chase received a $200 million fine for failing to keep track of employees’ use of private apps and personal email accounts.
An investigation discovered that a number of staff had ignored company rules around sending work-related material and used platforms such as WhatsApp instead.
While the messaging app can be a useful way for employees to keep in touch, particularly while working remotely, sharing sensitive work information could place employers at risk of legal claims.