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Banks Should Prepare for Possible WikiLeaks Disclosure

Photo:Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

During an interview with Forbes, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said there will be a disclosure of internal documents from a “major American bank” in early 2011 that will “lay bare the finance firm’s secrets on the Web for every customer, every competitor, every regulator to examine and pass judgment on.” Assange doesn’t go into further detail, but says the data will reveal an “ecosystem of corruption” and “unethical behavior.”

The words have struck fear in the hearts of Bank of America investors; its stock dropped yesterday on fears that it’s that bank. “We are unaware of any new claims by WikiLeaks that pertain specifically to Bank of America,” a spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal.

Still, it would be in BofA’s best interests, and the interests of all banks, to be prepared for what might come.

As stated in our guest post yesterday, there are no secrets nowadays. The Forbes story calls it “involuntary transparency,” and one factor is the ease with which information can be shared through technology.

Moreover, WikiLeaks is largely shielded from lawsuits, the Forbes story says, and it’s an international organization, which makes shutting it down a near impossibility. Even a condemnation from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will likely yield little. WikiLeaks has taken on private sector organizations in the past, in one instance targeting a company, Trafigura, that managed to win an injunction against the British media but still had secrets revealed through WikiLeaks.

Banks should be using the next few weeks to review their crisis communication plans with their PR teams to ready themselves for what the new year may bring, particularly if there’s anything damaging that could come out. (And seriously, what big bank doesn’t have something they’d rather not air?)

Reputations across Wall Street and the financial service industry are still recovering from the damage caused by the recession and the anger of people everywhere. Any bank that could be the next WikiLeaks target ought to be looking back at what’s been said and sent and working with a comms team to prepare company leaders to answer difficult questions that could arise. The government prepared for fall out by contacting officials around the world with warnings ahead of this week’s revelation. Banks should now consider themselves warned.

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