HSBC’s Christmas cheer this year includes a Scrooge-like reminder of its power to repossess homes.
A sign posted in a branch location in central London thanked the more than 100,000 customers who “trusted us with your mortgages this year.” In slightly smaller font beneath the message, a warning reads: “Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments of your mortgage.”
James Ball, an editor at The Guardian newspaper, tweeted a photo of the sign, which also imparts a jolly “Season’s greetings” from the bank.
Merry Christmas! Pay us or we'll take your home! pic.twitter.com/g0a9uxGt3Z
— James Ball (@jamesrbuk) December 10, 2014
Lenders came under increased scrutiny in the U.K. in April after the Financial Conduct Authority -- the agency that regulates the City, Britain’s version of Wall Street -- passed new rules to ensure that borrowers get mortgages they can afford to pay back. By the bank's own estimate, the exhaustive interviews for a loan from HSBC now take more than 90 minutes.
The ominous line in HSBC’s holiday sign is a mandatory disclosure for advertising mortgages.
"Although we realize it doesn't look very festive, it is a legal requirement to have these words on all our U.K. mortgage adverts, and for them to be easily noticeable," Neil Brazil, an HSBC spokesman, told The Huffington Post on Wednesday.
Similar regulations exist in the U.S. A Federal Trade Commission rule requires all lenders and mortgage-assistance services disclose in these exact words: “If you stop paying your mortgage, you could lose your home and damage your credit rating.”
This story has been updated with a comment from HSBC.