Espionage and Credit Suisse

In response to the recent news of espionage from within bank Credit Suisse, Dr Tim King, Senior Lecturer in Finance, Banking and Innovation at Kent Business School said:

‘Credit Suisse Group AG have announced they have parted company with CEO of five years, Tidjane Thiam, following a case of espionage that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a recent James Bond film. A 2019 internal investigation revealed that Thiam, had engaged in improper conduct by instructing private detectives to spy on the bank’s former wealth management boss, Iqbal Kahn, after he joined rivals UBS. This internal investigation came on the back of media reporting that police had arrested a number of perpetrators suspected of spying on Khan.

‘This incident is not the first example of high-level espionage in business. One recent case involved Dr Hongjin Tan, a 35 year old Chinese national with a PHD from the California Institute of Technology. Tan, was a scientist for multinational energy firm Philllips 66. He resigned last December, intending to join a rival firm. One day after Tan’s departure, Phillips 66 reported to the FBI that confidential files had been stolen from their servers. According to legal documents, Tan had allegedly stolen confidential documents worth one billion dollars.

‘While corporate espionage can occur through cyber techniques, these cases highlight the human element to corporate espionage and sabotage, which can be carried out on behalf of rival firms, governments, or even by disgruntled employees seeking revenge. There may some element of this latter motivate in relation to Credit Suisse. Thiam’s decision to have Kahn monitored was apparently driven by a personal feud. Initially shareholders, the board, and Chairman Urs Rohner publically backed Thiam. However, in December 2019 and January 2020 further incidents of surveillance emerged and by February the bank had to act.

‘Ultimately, the ongoing impact on the bank’s reputation was key, and Chairman Rohner likely had no choice in trying to distance the bank from the scandal. Whilst the bank will recover, Rohner’s future is unclear. His term as Chairman ends in 2021 and it is unlikely that key shareholders will lend their support to his future. It would not be a surprise to see further changes in key managerial positions in Credit Suisse over the next couple of years as the bank seeks to limit the fallout from this scandalous example of business espionage.’

Dr Tim King, Senior Lecturer in Finance, Banking and Innovation for Kent Business School, at the University of Kent.

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