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Traders' fears over WhatsApp messages to brokers

If you're a trader in London, you may well have spent the past week clearing out all your old WhatsApp messages and asking everyone you messaged there to do much the same. Last week's two major messaging-related exits - of an unnamed trader at HSBC and of the head of ECM syndicate at Credit Suisse - have put the wind up the market, but it's the HSBC trader who's really got people running scared. 

As we reported exclusively last week, the trader fired from HSBC is understood to have left the London office before bonuses were paid. The discovery of his WhatsApp messages has therefore left him without a bonus for 2021 and struggling to find a new job given the circumstances of his exit. HSBC, which is understood to have launched an internal investigation into the affair, is declining to comment.

While the trader himself remains anonymous, it's understood that some messages precipitating his exit related to conversations with London-based brokers concerning trades relating to the Asian market. Sources suggest that it's been relatively common across the market to discuss such Asian trades via WhatsApp, partly because they often take place very early in the mornings, when both London traders and brokers may be traveling to the office. However, it's understood that the practice may not have been that widespread at HSBC.

It's not just London traders who are communicating via messaging systems, and their messaging system of choice isn't just WhatsApp. Traders at other European banks in Asia tell us that a lot of information regarding high yield bonds in particular is frequently communicated on WeChat in the Hong Kong and China markets, and that this could become a problem if banks start digging into traders' historic communications. Another trader tells us that WeChat's voice-to-text service is particularly well-used by Mandarin-speaking traders trying to log trades quickly.

In London, deleting WhatsApp messages may make sense. As we noted last week, VTB banker Konstantin Vishnyak was acquitted of destroying evidence by a court in London in 2019 after simply deleting WhatsApp altogether. However, Deutsche Bank has warned its staff that deleting Whatsapp messages could be a crime in the US.  

Even after the firing of the HSBC trader, it's understood that some traders are still using WhatsApp to communicate with brokers, but have switched to messages that are automatically deleted. 

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
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