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Lessons in email etiquette to learn from Barclays Libor email scandal

Posted Monday July 9th, 2012, 8:35 am by

When will everyone understand that email and social media communications never disappear into the ether?  And why don’t we realise that our emails provide an instant and probably permanent picture of us, our culture and our business office?   Good email etiquette is as vital as managing the risk of a breach of security and compliance as discussed recently on the BBC Today programme.

Today, even if we delete an incriminating email or one we’d rather forget – it will still be sitting on some server somewhere or in a ‘cloud’ waiting to rain down disaster at any time up to decades later.

This is particularly the case if your company is linked to the financial, legal, public or professional services world.  We all have to keep records for a minimum of six years and in regulated environments like finance and commerce, communications are often retained for ….ever and can be requested as evidence.

Sadly, history keeps repeating itself as I’ve been writing for over a decade about extremely avoidable ‘emailgate’ type disasters.  From ‘Govegate’, to Microsoft antitrust, Merrill Lynch, Norwich Union (in 1977), BP emails revealing lying about the oil leakage and putting cost cutting before safety, to the recent memorable and revealing emails and texts exchanged by executives, editors, MPs and even prime ministers called to appear at the Leveson inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World. But top of the mind is Barclays, the latest large corporate brought down by inappropriate use of email.

Bollinger

“Dude, I owe you big time! Come over one day after work and I’m opening a bottle of Bollinger,” was seductive and highly conversational.  Not really the terms and phrases you’d expect for something so important and highly sensitive as fixing the interbank lending rates. Indeed Traders made their requests in person, via email and through electronic “chats” over an instant messaging system with little concern about the content, tone or image they were leaving behind.

And that’s the point.  Neither they or their organisation probably ever considered that their words would or could be broadcast worldwide several years after they were written.  Even if they had deleted the communications they would still exist somewhere and could be retrieved. The damage caused by casual communication is not just to the image of the individuals involved but can take years and large amounts of funds to rebuild the confidence of customers and the markets in which they operate.

What Barclays did was wrong.   Poor use of email and email etiquette just made the evidence easier to find. Perhaps it’s time for ‘slow email’ and more guidance on how email is used in the decision making process?

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