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Bank of America ready for WikiLeaks

Company has weathered public disclosures before, executive Finucane says

By Todd Wallack
Globe Staff / December 2, 2010

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A senior Bank of America executive yesterday suggested the company is prepared to deal with a possible release of internal documents by WikiLeaks in part because the bank has been through similar public disclosures before.

Anne Finucane, head of global strategy and marketing for Bank of America, said in a speech in Boston that the company has already endured grueling government investigations that resulted in the public release of executives’ e-mails and other internal documents.

“I don’t think there’s a company that has had more leaks, more of our information provided to congressional hearings, attorneys general . . . etc.,’’ said Finucane, referring to investigations by Congress and regulators over its controversial acquisition of failing investment bank Merrill Lynch in January 2009.

“We have been out there pretty much 24-7, whether those of us who run communications like it or not, and we have learned not only to react, but deal with this as a given,’’ she added.

Among the material that came out during a congressional investigation of Bank of America’s Merrill acquisition was an e-mail one bank director wrote to another director about the company’s decision to slash its dividend: “Unfortunately, it’s screw the shareholders!!’’ Another note by the same director suggested the company was forced by the government to complete the Merrill deal.

In February, Bank of America agreed to settle a separate investigation with the US Securities and Exchange Commission that it failed to properly disclose to investors the size of losses at Merrill Lynch, as well as bonuses Merrill employees would be receiving. The company agreed to pay $150 million and strengthen its corporate governance and disclosure practices.

Finucane spoke yesterday before a women’s networking breakfast sponsored by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. She made only a fleeting reference to the brewing controversy with WikiLeaks and spoke mainly about how Bank of America tried to respond to the financial crisis, as well as of her own career path to one of the top jobs in the nation’s largest bank.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Forbes magazine last month that the nonprofit group, which released a huge cache of sensitive US diplomatic correspondence this week, plans to release thousands of documents from a major US bank early next year, spurring speculation that Bank of America could be the target.

Assange did not identify the bank. But in a separate interview 13 months ago, Assange told Computerworld magazine that his organization had obtained a five-gigabyte hard drive from an unidentified Bank of America executive. Still, Bank of America said it has no contact with WikiLeaks and is unable to verify the assertion that WikiLeaks has an employee’s hard drive.

“We can assume it’s us, but we don’t know it’s us, because we’ve had no further evidence beyond what we have read and heard,’’ Finucane said.

Finucane is the only member of Bank of America’s senior executive committee based in Boston. Chief executive Brian Moynihan lives in Massachusetts, but is officially based at the bank’s headquarters in Charlotte, N.C.

Finucane’s responsibilities include overseeing Bank of America’s vast philanthropic efforts. In her speech yesterday, she said Bank of America has several priorities for its charitable giving: economic development, cultural institutions, and social services. For instance, Finucane noted the bank recently donated $10 million to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which just opened a new wing to public acclaim.

Overall, Bank of America has said it plans to give away about $12 million by the end of this year to nonprofit organizations and other groups in Massachusetts, up from $9 million a year six years ago when it acquired FleetBoston, then New England’s largest bank.

“Happily, we have been able to increase our community relations and philanthropy over the last several years,’’ Finucane said.

Todd Wallack can be reached at twallack@globe.com.