According to a letter sent to clients last month, a copy of which was obtained by the South China Morning Post, the bank said that under new conditions of its leases for safety deposit boxes it had the right to dispose of any items it considered illegal, of an “offensive” nature or likely to be a “nuisance”, in any way it saw fit and without prior notice or consent.
The letter did not clarify what HSBC meant by “offensive” or “nuisance”, and did not explain under what circumstances bank staff would be able to inspect the boxes.
It asked clients to sign and return the letter within one month to confirm their acceptance of the updated conditions, so “we [HSBC] can continue providing you with the Safe Deposit Locker services”.
“This is a ridiculous and grossly invasive power which makes a nonsense of the whole purpose of a safety deposit box,” the Post quotes Barrister Neville Sarony, SC as saying. “Granting HSBC the unlimited right to snoop in your box and dispose of its contents without prior warning makes a total nonsense of the word ‘safe’.”
“HSBC has a clear commitment to defend the integrity of the financial system against activities such as money laundering,” a spokesman told the Post. “We want to reassure … these changes to the terms and conditions will not in any way reduce the security and privacy of our safe deposit locker service.”
This appears to be an escalation in the direction of harassing those who prefer to keep their funds in the form of, say, cash or gold.
Last April, JPMoragnChase sent a letter to safety deposit customers announcing that cash would be prohibited from being stored in the bank's safety deposit boxes.