UBL and social media: what really happened over the weekend?

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On Friday, the corporate communication and PR department of the country’s third largest bank felt the reputation smashing capacity of social media that is usually reserved for politicians and celebrity scandals.

Three different incidents, one of which happened last year, in fact, were stringed together to form a story that had all the required elements to go viral: high-level terminations at the bank, arrests at the airport and fraud. The story that formulated as a result of multiple Whatsapp (instant messaging service) could not be further from the truth.

The three incidents that were the root of the panic were:

1)      Sima Kamil leaving HBL probably to join UBL as deputy CEO,

2)      A travel advisory (not ban) by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP),

3)      A mishandled treasury transaction last year for which the necessary person(s) had already been reprimanded.

All three are unrelated but it is easy to see how they can be misconstrued.

Sima Kamil had already resigned from HBL after 16 years and as per reliable sources is being hired as deputy CEO of UBL. Wajahat Hussain, the current CEO of UBL, is still very much the president of the bank. Whether his contract is renewed or not when it expires in June this year, cannot be said with full certainty.

SBP issued new directives to all scheduled banks last week to avoid unnecessary foreign travel of banking employees. This was a general advisory and not targeted to one particular bank.

As for the so-called ‘fraud’, there was a mishandled transaction by the UBL treasury last year and the necessary actions were taken by UBL’s management and SBP.

The stringed theory, however, came out be completely different and overly controversial. That Wajahat Hussain had committed a major fraud and was about to flee the country along with other UBL senior staff, but was arrested at the airport and subsequently Sima Kamil had replaced him. A far-fetched and completely untrue story spread throughout the banking industry.

Lighter versions of the story soon followed, but the original story had already done the damage, forcing UBL to issue a press release to clarify their position.

The truth was that it was just bad timing that the HBL internal circular informing the bank about Sima Kamil’s resignation was followed by the SBP advisory. The rest was fair game for social media to create the most contentious theory to go viral by twisting old and new unrelated incidents.