Banks should prepare for WikiLeaks fallout

The WikiLeaks firestorm is not dying down anytime soon with the statement from founder Julian Assange that he will release documents early next year from a major US bank.

The WikiLeaks firestorm is not dying down anytime soon with the statement from founder Julian Assange that he will release documents early next year from a major US bank.

In an interview with Forbes, Assange likened the documents to the Enron e-mails, which should serve as a warning to every major US bank. And no matter which bank the documents end up coming from, the fallout will trickle down to financial institutions as a whole.

The damage control the White House has had to put in place over the past week should push every bank to ramp up its crisis PR now in preparation for what will come later.

Assange has made it clear he feels his actions are ethical and it is his First Amendment and journalistic right to expose practices that are, in his view, unethical.

The WikiLeaks site has disappeared from the Web, at least temporarily, after a series of attacks on its servers and the decision of US domain provider EveryDNS.net to withdraw service to Wikileaks.org.

But Assange will continue to release documents for as long as he can, either directly or via the media. Major media outlets will again be faced with the issue of being beaten by competitors or reporting on the documents. As evidenced by past releases, most will decide to report the story.

In an effort to downplay the impact of WikiLeaks, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs made the statement to Fox News that American foreign policy is stronger than “one guy with one website.”

But in an age where almost any information is available on the Internet, there is no getting around the fact that organizations and corporations must operate as if there is no such thing as a secret anymore.

In the coming months, the major US banks need to understand the importance of transparency and be proactive in protecting a brand and image that has already been damaged by the economic crisis.

Already, after rumors swirled that Bank of America will be the next WikiLeaks victim, stock prices at the bank dropped more than 3%.

Ethical or unethical, there is no denying the public thirst for insight and information on the internal practices of organizations. And that realization needs to be embedded in the practice and mindset of executives and officials.

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