Late last month, Credit Suisse pleaded guilty to helping many of its clients hide their assets from the IRS, and paid the U.S. $2.6 billion to demonstrate just how sorry it was for doing so. And though some thought that clients and counterparties would subsequently look at the bank in a different and negative light, it turned out that no one cared at all. BNP Paribas, however, is not so lucky.
Although the number has yet to be finalized, and the president of France is doing his part to pull some strings to get it down, it's highly possible that the French bank will be forced to pay upwards of $10 billion for "transferring funds for clients in violation of [U.S.] sanctions against countries including Sudan and Iran." And while $2.6 billion is but pocket change, when you get past, say, $7 billion, and certainly up to $10 billion, you start to talk about real money. Naturally, this has BNP clients nervous about what all this means for business, and the upper echelons of BNP management nervous about how their employees might respond to questions without the benefit of a script ("I'm glad you asked, Jaques...1"). So...
According to an internal memo dated June 2 and seen by Bloomberg News, bankers should tell clients that the U.S. “is still clearly a strategic market” for France’s largest bank and “BNP Paribas is doing everything it can to guarantee that impending decisions won’t have a negative impact on our clients and counterparties and won’t hinder their business activities.” The three-page “elements of oral communication” lays out a script of nine questions and answers to help executives and corporate bankers to answer questions clients may have about the investigation.
1. "Penalties aren't that bad. I don't even mind the word 'penalties.' You know, it's 'alties,' which is good. And a 'pen' in front of it. PEN-ALTIES. When you consider the other choices, 'penalties' are actually pretty refreshing."↩