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Wall Street texting habit sticks banks with rare $1 billion bill

July 15, 2022 Updated Fri., July 15, 2022 at 8:22 p.m.

A “Wall Street” sign is shown on a building in New York on June 27, 2022.  (Bloomberg )
A “Wall Street” sign is shown on a building in New York on June 27, 2022. (Bloomberg )
By Bloomberg

Bloomberg

Regulators are poised to extract about $1 billion in fines from the five biggest U.S. investment banks for failing to monitor employees using unauthorized messaging apps.

Morgan Stanley disclosed Thursday that it expects to pay a $200 million fine, the same amount JPMorgan Chase paid as authorities use that settlement as a yardstick for the industry.

Citigroup has a reserve in line with what other banks have disclosed, the firm’s finance chief said Friday.

Goldman Sachs and Bank of America also have had advanced discussions with the regulators to each pay a similar figure, according to people with knowledge of the talks who asked not to be identified because the matter isn’t public.

The discussions have not concluded and the penalties could still change.

The grand total represents a rare escalation from regulators looking into such an issue, with fines tending to be significantly lower in the past.

The sweeping civil probes rank among the largest penalties levied against U.S. banks for record-keeping lapses, dwarfing a $15 million penalty imposed on Morgan Stanley in 2006 over its failure to preserve emails.

Finance firms are required to scrupulously monitor communications involving their business to head off improper conduct.

That system, already challenged by the proliferation of mobile-messaging apps, was strained further as firms sent workers home shortly after the start of the COVID-19 outbreak.

In December, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission imposed $200 million in fines on JPMorgan, saying that even managing directors and other senior supervisors at the bank had skirted regulatory scrutiny by using services such as WhatsApp or personal email addresses for work-related communication.

New York-based Citigroup took a one-time reserve for the probe, Chief Financial Officer Mark Mason said on an earnings conference call with reporters Friday.

The reserve is “appropriate” and “aligned with what our peers have disclosed,” he said.

Goldman Sachs and Bank of America spokespeople declined to comment Thursday.

Representatives for the CFTC and the SEC also declined to comment.

The probes spearheaded by the SEC and CFTC could net a bigger haul, as regulators have also sought information from other firms such as HSBC Holdings and Deutsche Bank.

Earlier this year, Deutsche Bank reminded employees that deleting messages is forbidden. The German lender is rolling out new software on corporate mobile phones that archives WhatsApp messages, Bloomberg has reported.

The members of the management board have also agreed to pay cuts of about $80,000 each as they take responsibility for the widespread use of texting and WhatsApp among staff.

Morgan Stanley’s expected fine was “related to a specific regulatory matter concerning the use of unapproved personal devices and the firm’s record-keeping requirements,” the New York-based bank said Thursday, announcing second-quarter results.

When JPMorgan’s fine was disclosed, Sanjay Wadhwa, deputy director of enforcement at the SEC, said the New York-based bank’s “failures hindered several commission investigations and required the staff to take additional steps that should not have been necessary.”

Firms should “share the mission of investor protection rather than inhibit it,” he said.

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