May 17, 2015

Source: Shutterstock

A few days ago I received an e-mail from my British bank about my US$ account in Jersey. I have this account in Jersey because my mainland branch did not allow me to have such an account with it. The e-mail was from someone called the business standards officer:

Your account with us has been brought to my attention to review, and it has been found that we will require additional information to ensure that we are able to continue managing your account.

Note that the bringing to attention and the finding of the requirement were entirely in the passive voice and were by person or persons unknown, at least to me. As Kafka put it, “€˜Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one morning.”€™ Or perhaps there was no human agency involved at all.

“€œThe impression given by all this is that privacy no longer exists, that everyone is presumed guilty by government or bank until proven innocent, and that the ordinary citizen may be intimidated, misled and lied to without shame.”€

The implicit accusations followed, without any explicit reason for them:

Can you please confirm the source of funds… which have been deposited in your account? If these funds are work-related can you please confirm the nature of the work, who your employers are and if you anticipate this to continue? Can you please advise why the funds are paid to your international account, rather than being paid direct to your UK account.

“€˜I would be grateful if you could provide this information within 14 days of the date of this e-mail”€™ (emphasis in the original).

In other words, my own business is not my own business; there is, in fact, no such thing as my own business. Moreover, the source of the funds was perfectly obvious from the cheques that I had paid in and from the direct transfers to the account; and a glance at the bank’s own records and common sense should have been enough to establish that the amounts I receive and have received for years were scarcely worth the laundering, if I were a money launderer. I have been a customer of the on-shore bank for nearly fifty years and it must be very rarely that a person of my age (which the bank knows perfectly well, because it knows my date of birth which has not changed in the intervening period) commences a career of fraud or financial irregularity. And as if that were not enough, the bank itself has repeatedly been forced to admit that it has engaged on huge-scale dishonesty that has cost it billions in fines and reparations (though I am not quite sure how much faith as to their sincerity or justification I should place in such admissions).

If I were a money launderer, I would surely be capable of providing the bank with false though plausible answers for which the questions its business standards officer asked. That is the kind of thing that I assume money launderers do. Given the bank’s recent history it would make more sense for me to make sure the bank was not laundering money; and in fact I replied to the business standards officer by e-mail asking him to telephone me so that I could ask him a few security questions. Where did he live? How old was he? How was I to know that the telephone number and address on the e-mail really was from the bank, and that the e-mail was not a scam organised by a Nigerian or Congolese? During the prolonged period of the bank’s admitted malfeasances, did he receive any bonuses? Etc., etc..

“€˜I would like to thank you in advance for your assistance.”€™ Whom would I be helping and with what, exactly? “€˜Should you require any further advice please do not hesitate to contact us.”€™ Advice? An odd choice of word, surely: but note the cunning change from the first person singular to the first person plural.


Sign Up to Receive Our Latest Updates!