Thursday, September 15, 2011

Oh no; Not again

Yet another rogue trader has emerged. This morning is ablaze with the news that UBS (a Swiss bank) could have lost some $2bn on account of the actions of one trader - Kweku Adoboli at its London office. Adoboli has been arrested last night and the details are only slowly emerging.  Nothing is proven as yet , but Adoboli might very well join his illustrious predecessors - Nick Leeson of Barings, Jerome Kerviel of Societe Generale, et al in the hall of Notoriety.

Apparently the losses stemmed from the trader placing bets, using the banks'own money on something called Delta One - trading in financial instruments linked to exchange traded funds. To lose $2bn, the trader must have been trading staggering sums of money. Clearly UBS has egg on its face. Quite apart from the massive loss, questions will be asked about risk management in the bank. How could they let such a big loss build up.

The question to be asked is what on earth banks are doing even indulging in such activities. They are cloaked under the respectable heading of "investment banking", but this is nothing other than pure gambling. Is this what banks should be doing - gambling in esoteric instruments that nobody else would even understand ? Banks think that they can build big risk management systems, but the truth is that traders are incredibly bright and frighteningly sharp and they will  find a way to beat the best of control systems. After all, traders often hold their managers and risk departments in utter contempt and consider it almost a rite of passage to hoodwink them.

The fig leaf that this is all somehow a very respectable activity couched in terminology such as risk management, investment diversification, hedging, providing liquidity and such other gobbledygook must be once and for all removed. Banks, if they wish to indulge in such activities, should label these departments as "Pure unadulterated gambling department", "Better than a Las Vegas casino department", "" The Wild Wild West",  "Punters Inc",   "Rogues' Lounge" , etc etc.

Plain English helps. Free drinks served by scantily clad waitresses roaming up and down the aisle is optional.

And bankers wonder why they are unloved by the public.