UPDATE 1-HSBC drops some Mideast customers on compliance costs

Thu Feb 7, 2013 11:33am EST

* To close MENA customer accounts with sanctioned-state links

* List includes Iran and Syria, others

* Cites additional compliance costs of customers

By David French

DUBAI, Feb 7 (Reuters) - HSBC will close the accounts of some customers in the Middle East and North Africa with links to sanction-targeted nations, the bank said on Thursday, as the lender looks to cut the heavy compliance costs associated with them.

HSBC was fined $1.9 billion in December - the largest such punishment ever imposed on a bank - after a scathing report by U.S. lawmakers accused the bank of lax controls relating to cash coming from Mexican drug cartels and countries under U.S. sanctions including Iran and Syria.

The lender confirmed it would be closing accounts belonging to some customers in the MENA region with citizenship, residency or business links to nations affected by sanctions applied by the United States, the European Union, or both.

The list of countries included Iran and Syria, as well as other nations around the world. While declining to provide further specifics, a spokeswoman said the list did not include any country in which HSBC operates a branch network.

However, the change would only affect those who were not Advance or Premier class customers. Those accounts require a minimum monthly salary of 15,000 dirhams ($4,100) or the maintaining of 100,000 dirhams in the account at all times.

HSBC said in a statement the action was due to the need for "enhanced oversight on any customer with connections to sanctioned countries.

"Where we are unable to maintain sufficiently detailed information about such a customer through a relationship managed account, we are having to discontinue that relationship."

One regional banking analyst said the cost of making additional checks on customers was difficult to justify if they did not provide much revenue to the bank.

"HSBC's strategy in the Middle East has always been to target the bigger clients who come with other cross-selling opportunities, so it makes sense and also reduces costs," the analyst said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.

HSBC did not say how many people were affected by the decision. It said the bank had given the customers 30 days' notice before the accounts are closed.

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