Exactly How Do You Hide $73 Billion In Fraudulent Trades?

from the bet-big,-lose-big dept

At the end of last week, the latest banking scandal started hitting the wires as news broke of a low level trader for the French bank Societe Generale was somehow able to lose the bank $7.2 billion by sneaking around various control and security systems to make a series of complex bets, well beyond what he should have been allowed to do. Many people are comparing it to the case of Nick Leeson, who brought down Barings bank over a decade ago -- though, with Leeson, it only took a little over a $1 billion. And, over the weekend, the details got worse. That $7.2 billion loss came on bets up to $73 billion. It certainly raises plenty of questions about the controls that are in place. No matter how sneaky you are, you would think that $73 billion would be pretty hard to trade without anyone noticing. Apparently not. The trader in this case, Jerome Kerviel, supposedly had a detailed understanding of the security systems thanks to an earlier job at the bank, that involved monitoring the trading systems and then used other people's accounts and falsified documents to hide his tracks. Even so, you would think that someone would have taken notice of $73 billion moving around. Societe Generale claims that, unlike Barings, it can easily survive this fraud and will even turn a profit. Of course, at the same time, it also announced it needs to raise $8 billion -- and given the size of the loss, that certainly makes it sound like the bank needs to replace that money pretty quickly.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    ChurchHatesTucker, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 6:38am

    Slowly

    His trading took place over the course of a year. It was when he tried to get rid of his profits (which he was too successful at) that he was detected. See the article here:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/europe/rogue-trader-the-man-who-saved-the-world-or-not-7746 58.html

     

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  2.  
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    Barbara, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 7:09am

    Don't you find it odd...

    Don't you find it odd that a person would perpetrate such a fraud and not have any personal gain for themselves. Why did he do it if he personally wasn't going to gain - just for giggles? I think there is a lot more going on here that they are not sharing.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 7:19am

    Wall Street Journal has a good article on how this happened. Actually, the positions he took recently is what did him in. 2007 was pretty much a neutral year for his trades, his positions in 08 sank the ship.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 7:35am

    what is missing from this article is that the employee being blamed is a 30 year old mid lvl employee who has been in bank for less than 1 year.

    which makes me wonder:
    Is he really the cause or just a scape goat, if he really is the only one involved that bank has some serious security issues.

     

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  5.  
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    Vincent Clement, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 7:40am

    A few years back, MasterCard was able to detect fraudulent activity on my card and called me to confirm if I did or did not purchase the material. We are talking about $600. Yet a bank cannot detect a $7.2 billion loss?

     

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  6.  
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    dorpass, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 7:41am

    Re: Slowly

    That article is quite interesting. Besides the different numbers, it has Ed Yardeni saying that ".. the recession is almost over." Quite fascinating seeing how we STILL did not have 2 continuous quarters of decreasing GDP. Sounds like someone is trying to write up a sensationalist article.

     

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  7.  
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    Drew, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 7:41am

    Professional Gain

    He might not have had a lot to gain personally, but he sure had a lot to gain professionally.

    Imagine everything had worked out perfectly, and he made his company BILLIONS of dollars. As a hot-shot banker, you gotta believe that he thought that might propel him up the corporate ladder... And what a reputation he'd have.

     

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  8.  
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    Duodave, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 7:49am

    I have trouble getting excited over this

    Why do I get the feeling this goes on more often than the banks care to let us know? I take issue with the inferrence that these were "bets" - when I saw that in your description I thought this guy was visiting Monte Carlo with $7.2 billion.

     

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  9.  
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    Dave Barnes, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 7:50am

    Speling errors

    It is not: Jerome Kerviel and Societe Generale.
    It is: Jérôme Kerviel and Société Générale

     

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  10.  
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    4-80-sicks, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 8:03am

    Re: Speling errors

    It is: Jérôme Kerviel and Société Générale

    American keyboards don't have those keys, and such characters must be typed by pressing Alt-0224, Alt-0232, etc. We don't usually bother.

     

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  11.  
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    Spuds, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 8:05am

    Re: Speling errors

    ғüĉķ ŸǒǗ

     

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  12.  
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    Joe Smith, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 8:14am

    Re: I have trouble getting excited over this

    I take issue with the inferrence that these were "bets" - when I saw that in your description I thought this guy was visiting Monte Carlo with $7.2 billion.

    He was trading derivatives and "bets" is not a bad or unfair characterization.

    When you go to Monte Carlo the rules of the game are known and you can calculate your odds. Its seems pretty clear that in the current meltdown there were lots of Wall Street types who did not did not understand the rules and could not calculate the odds. It brings to mind the old advice: if you sit down at a poker table and can't spot the mark - you're the mark.

     

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  13.  
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    Anthony, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 8:22am

    Re:

    The credit card company was able to detect the illegitimate charge because certain flags were triggered by the bank's computer. A rather simplistic example, after a card is stolen a thief might attempt to get gas for just a few dollars to make sure the card has not been canceled right before he buys his girlfriend a $3000 necklace at the jewelry store.

    By working in the backroom trading facility before he started trading Jérôme knew those rules and was able to get around them.

     

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  14.  
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    SimonSays, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 8:23am

    A must watch

    Money = Debt. The system is broken. This is a reminder to everyone to watch this: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-9050474362583451279

     

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  15.  
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    Jack Sombra, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 8:26am

    "Imagine everything had worked out perfectly, and he made his company BILLIONS of dollars. As a hot-shot banker, you gotta believe that he thought that might propel him up the corporate ladder... And what a reputation he'd have."
    If you read the article he actually he did make a billion or so, but because he could not explain it to the bank he had try to lose it, problem was he over did it and went from about a billion plus in the black to a billion plus in the red

     

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  16.  
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    dorpass, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 8:55am

    Re: I have trouble getting excited over this

    "Bets" is quite a common term in the stock market, there is no reason to be up in arms about it. This has nothing to do with this one bank coming up with the term for their purposes. If you want a conspiracy theory, try again, Duodave.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 10:10am

    My understanding is the $7.2 loss was because the bank closed out all of his undocumented positions immediately upon discovery of the fraud. I wonder what would have happened if he hadn't been discovered?

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 10:19am

    The guy never tried to lose money. He placed bets on the industry averages, that was his department. When he placed a bet on the upside, he was supposed to place a offsetting bet on the downside. Through numbers, the bank would make a small profit. He made the bets, but was not hedging the bet with the appropriate offsetting bet (he just made those up by forging documents) and recently the bank was liable for up to $40 or so billion.

     

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  19.  
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    Lance Hassan, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 11:04am

    Also...

    In the war to point the finger it has also come out the Eurex the Exchange through which the trades were taking place, notified the bank that something did not look right, Back in November. Dealing with bad news like a lot of banks do these days, they ignored the warning.

     

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  20.  
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    Cixelsid, Jan 30th, 2008 @ 9:00am

    Re: Re: Speling errors

    "ғüĉķ ŸǒǗ"

    Damn, that must have taken you a while. Your depth of devotion touches my soul.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    James, Mar 19th, 2008 @ 5:41pm

    SocGen Resume

    I guess 8 years of Judo classes can help. Here's the rouge trader's resume:

    http://razume.com/resume/view/916

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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