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Financial scandals are known for their adverse effects on businesses. They can cripple a business entity or lead to total collapse. Thus, the value of looking into the issue of scandals constitutes a study area of great value both to the academic discourse and the general knowledge. This paper looks into financial scandals with a view to finding common factors underlying them. Through a case study approach, the Amaranth Advisors, Allfirst Group, and Soceite Generale are examined.
Through the use of relevant literature review, it is established that though scandals are different in the nature of their emergence, there are a host of common factors that occasion them. The study finds that poor regulating posed by both internal and external mechanisms are to blame for this phenomenon. It is also established that issues such as rogue trading, office politics, laxity in rule application and sluggish responding constitute the other common factors underlying the scandals.
The paper concludes by calling upon the tightening of measures, updating technologies, de-politicizing organizational business, and the adoption of stringent regulation to tame the vice. Introduction Financial scandals involve business and political misdeeds by executives entrusted with large public and private institutions. These schemes entail complex methodical application of schemes with a view to misdirecting and/or misusing funds. Other forms of scandals may pertain to understating expenses, underreporting business liabilities, overstating of revenues, overstating of assets, etc.
This is normally done by officials and subordinates of businesses. In public enterprises, this kind of action constitutes fraud. In cases where scandals have been detected or reported, the norm is always to launch investigations with a view to unearthing the issues underlying the engagement of such criminal activity. The oversight agencies like Securities and Exchange Commission in the United States are responsible for investigating the emergence of this kind of crime. Scandals typically present a seriously dangerous scenario as most investigations point that such scams are nothing but a ‘tip of an iceberg’.
As this paper finds out scandals are often led by officials within organizations. The officials are given support by either laxity or complacency by relevant organs. Literature review In any research, the use of literature review is of undisputed value. Literature review enables a researcher to find the status of an issue area. This is possible as literature review offers what other researchers have done on the study issue. On this basis, this study is no exception as it heavily relies on the works of other scholars towards raising important findings. The case of Societe Generale
The scandal involving Societe Generale went on for a long period of time. It was first reported via an email on November 7th of 2007. A surveillance office stationed at Eurex raised the mater before a compliance officer of the bank. It was revealed that a trader; Jerome Kerviel, had engaged in a number of transactions which were suspicious in nature (Martin, Allen, Allen and Samuel, 1). The bank bid its time and launched its own response in 20th of November. In this response, a risk control expert at the bank purported that there was nothing irregular in the transactions executed between the bank and the client; Jerome Kerviel.
In his response, the bank official claimed that the then ongoing volatility in the financial markets especially in the United States of America and Europe stocks, was the reason behind the bank’s requirement of after-hours trading (Martin, Allen, Allen and Samuel, 1). The office at Eurex did not stop there. On November 26, it sent a second email to the bank explaining its displeasure at the way the matter was handled by the bank. This explains what led the bourse to demand further information regarding this issue. The bank, Societe Generale provided further information on 10th of December.
On this basis, the two parties; Societe Generale and the Eurex office let the issue disappear (Martin, Allen, Allen and Samuel, 1). When Kerviel raised another alarm, coming five weeks later, it proved too little too late. He made a lot of profit based on the surreptitious trading amounting to around two billion US dollars. However, this gain was soon to evaporate as a loss in the region of seven billion US dollars. The bank basically unwound the financial standing of Kerviel on 21st and 22nd of January (Clark and Jolly, 1).
A spokesperson of Societe Generale declined to comment on the warning issued earlier by Eurex claiming an internal inquiry led by a special committee composed of independent directors was underway. It is hypothesized at this stage that ignoring the red flag raised by Eurex was a serious misstep in aiding this scandal. The loss suffered by the bank is almost wholly attributable to the actions of ignorance on the side of the bank (Sage, 1). The bank, despite being in business for over one hundred and forty four years, it failed by allowing a culture of risk taking to flourish within its ranks.
Simply put, this seriously exposed the bank as it allowed for major flaws to characterize its operations. It is hypothesized that it is this allowance that paved way for the rogue businessman to rock the bank and make away with a good amount of money while leaving the bank with gaping holes in its financial status. The manner in which Kerviel was let to undertake his mischief undetected by a bank of Societe Generale stature serves to underscore this realization (Gregory and Anne-Sylvaine, 1).
Instead of discouraging the making of big bets by clients, the Societe Generale group rewarded traders who made such risky investments. It is further revealed that it was never uncommon for traders to exceed the limits put on trading momentarily before holding back. This was however against controls limiting this (Martin, Allen, Allen and Samuel, 1). During January 2008, Societe Generale lost over 4. 9 billion euros as it closed positions in three days. At this time, the market was experiencing a big drop in equity indices.
It is claimed by the bank that these positions were fraudulent creations of one, Jerome Kerviel, a rogue trader. However, more surprises were sprung up as the police claimed they did not have the evidence to charge the culprit with fraud instead preferring abuse of confidence charges against Jerome Kerviel. Jerome Kerviel claimed that his actions were well known to the superiors at the bank and the major reason behind the collapse of the bank was based on panic selling (Sage, 1). It is claimed by bank officials that throughout the year 2007, Jerome Kerviel was trading profitably anticipating a fall in market prices.
This was however done beyond authorized levels. The culprit is accused of engaging in trade totaling almost 50 billion, a figure way above the bank’s sum market capitalization. It is further revealed that Jerome Kerviel attempted to hide this engagement by intentionally creating losing trades in a bid to offset the early gains he had made. In addition to the above allegation, Jerome Kerviel is thought to have made over 1. 5 billion US dollars in hidden profits (Martin, Allen, Allen and Samuel, 14). The case of Allfirst
John Rusnak, a former currency businessman at Allfirst bank, at the time an affiliate of AIB Company was given a 71/2 years jail term in connection to his role in the disappearance of six hundred and one US million dollars. This sum of money was lost due to the banking system’s encouragement of bad bets. The bad debts were later to snowball leading to a monstrous scam ever witnessed in the banking industry. The culprit, Rusnak John was transferred from prison to his house in June of 2008 to be under house detention until September the same year and later let free in 5th January 2009.
This meant that in total, Rusnak served less than six years in incarceration (Robert, 45). If the original sentence could have been adhered to the later, Rusnak could have been held in prison for a period of over 30 years. However, the original sentence was a presentation of a plea bargain hammered in collaboration with the US prosecutors. While being released, it was alleged that Rusnak had earned good behavior and completed a drug treatment module. On his release, Rusnak was expected to begin paying one thousand US dollars a month to cater for his time in probation (Robert, 45).
Though Rusnak was held responsible for the loss of six hundred and ninety one million US dollars, the case prosecutors claimed whatever amount to be paid was to depend on what the culprit was able to make after being freed. The fraudulent activities engineered by Rusnak were very harmful to the entire stakeholder ship as over one thousand and one hundred Allfirst employees lost their jobs during the sale of the company (Robert, 45). Early on at the discovery of the fraud, the executives at Alllfirst and AIB believed that there was no any form of conspiracy between Rusnak and any other member or official of the bank (Brian, 54).
This finding may absolve the bank of any blame in the eyes of the public. However, this is a devastating finding since it paints a grisly picture on the part of the bank. That is to say if one bank official would carry out a fraud of this magnitude, then things were quite wrong. Simply put, the bank’s monitoring and self regulating mechanism was in tatters to say the least. The Ludwig report confirmed that the bank’s back office did not make attempts towards confirming the bogus options alongside their Asian counterparts.
The negligence fronted by the company’s middle and back offices from confirming the foreign exchange rate from an independent source also puts the bank on the spot. It is also alleged that the internal audit done in 1999 did not bring out the real picture. Later in 2000, an audit carried only examined a single transaction to determine whether indeed there was impropriety. These failures of the bank only present actions that appear in support of graft (Brian (a), 34). The back office at the treasury had issued a warning regarding the events at the bank.
The fact that the bank chose to let the opportunity points to gross misconduct by leadership. The treasury, backroom office had raised a host of issues regarding Rusnak’s personality concerns and confirming trades conducted by Rusnak. The culprit seemed excellent in playing organizational politics to his advantage. This is reflected by the fact that the back office desisted from reporting the actions of the trader as the management was behind Rusnak’s activities. If the back office had received support from the top management, then the rogue activities could have been curtailed (Brian, 54).
Foreign exchange rules require that suspicious activities should be discouraged (Brian (a), 34). The two prime brokerage provision banks failed to uncover what Rusnak was undertaking. This was a notable omission on the part of the two banks. The Historical Rate Rollovers should never have been used to uncover fraud deals as it happened. The trading system at Allfirst was literary flawed as one employee was trying to run a hedge fund. Rusnak had no knowledge, diversification, skills, and other requisite attributes necessary to run the trading system (Brian (a), 35). The case of Amaranth Advisors
The year 2006 was one of the most devastating in reference to the history of the Amaranth group. It is during this year that Amaranth Advisors lost in excess of two billion US dollars over a span of few weeks (Robert, 37). Amaranth Advisors engaged in a very risky venture in regards to trading. This left the business entity hugely exposed to the frugalities that characterise the business world. Liquidity is an aspect that should be closely monitored if businesses ae to be safe. But taking risks as this business did implies a readiness in the business to test the waters of uncertainty.
Launched as a hedge fund business, Amaranth operated a very risky venture as its portfolio could change up to 80 percenty in reflection of the energy trade. As this soared, the group, Amaranth changed tack and put onside the concept of diversification with a view to mitigating the risks that were emerging. the group traded on Credit Arbitrage, Convertible Bond Arbitrage, Merger Arbitrage, Energy Arbitrage, etc. Initially, the the amount in Convertible Arbitrage reflected sixty percenty of te worth of the company. however, by september 2006, this had shifted to almost two percent.
Such is the volatility that characterised the company activities (Robert, 37). One factor emerges at this point; there were no limits concerning the regulation of concentration. Leverage was also unrestricted. when leverage is unrestricted, it means that a company can engage in trading beyond the set limit or outside the confines of its budget. this portends ill for a business as in the case of a loss, the company can easily go under (Robert, 37). Brian Hunter who was hired in 2004 takes blame for the financial fiasco experienced by this group.
Brian Hunter had already cut a niche for himself in the corridors of wall street. While trading in energy futures, Hunter had achieved great success and it is perhaps on this basis that Amaranth hired him. The trader was so renowned such that When he threatened to quit in 2004, his perks were adjusted upwards to tie him there. Hunter was also given the oportunity to trade separately from the group boss and awarded adittional compenation. Equally of note rests on the fact that the individual was given the privilege of relocating o his hometown and trade from there (Robert, 38).
On the basisof the United States Senate Permanent Subcommitte on Finance, Amaranth lost money in the region of two bilion US dollars beginning the first week of August. This loss was attributed to the trading in natural gas which led to high liquidity in the entire company portfolio. The John Marthinsen estimates put the losses at around 6. 5 billion. The Amaranth group was deeply engaged in various types of contracts that captured futures, options, and swaps. The company position remained hugely independent on the future prices of natural gas (Robert, 38). Historically, natural gas prices rose during the winter times.
This was held as natural gas is commonly used as a heating source at tis tme. so it was commonsense that gas prices would rise during te time. Amaranth was banking on this norm to enable the company reap profits. However, this is an instinctive way of runing business which cannot be relied upon though it wored previously. this ponts to a lack of well oiled strategies in running the business (Robert, 38). Allfirst hired John Rusnak as a currency trader with a view to help in the proprietary exchange of foreign currency. This was a costly acquistion as the fellow cost the bank around 691 million dollars.
Through the use of various methods, Rusnak overstepped his mandate and traded beyond limits putting the bank’s fortunes at stake in the process (Robert, 38). The wild derivatives were the first error towards the financial meltdown. It appears like Brooksley Born, the then chairperson of Commodity Futures Trading Commission had foreseen the danger posed by deregulation of derivatives. The idea to extend the regulation mandate as proposed by Brooksley was rebuffed by the officials of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve, and the Treasury Department.
While it remains debatable whether the regulation could prevent or alter the financial trend, few dispute the idea that such control would have slowed the emergence of the problem. Financial analysts believe if this was introduced 10 years or earlier, the control would have mitigated the rise of the problem (Blinder, 1). Wild derivatives have adverse effects on any business, the deregulation of derivatives at Amaranth, Allfirst, and Societe Generale point to the fact that such a precedent is dangerous as it portends ill for a business.
Blinder has observed that the alarm bells signaling the financial credit crunch went long ago and individuals in positions of influence refused to act rather preferring to protect huge business interests. The innermost government sanctums were basically to blame as they chose to protect few businesses at the expense of the common good (Blinder, 1). Brooksley, while serving at CFTC made it clear to congress that controlling the financial markets was necessary. The financial instruments commonly known as derivatives were the focus point.
It is little surprise that ultimately the collapse of the derivatives market served as a trigger towards the 2008 financial crisis. Brooksley was overly concerned about the ‘swaps’ unregulated trading (Blinder, 1). This unregulated trading led to the near collapse of the economy. Similarly the unregulated nature of activities of the three companies presented the necessary conditions for the scandals to take place. For an efficient market operation, there are no illusions, regulation by an independent body is necessary.
On the basis of Blinder’s observation ‘sky high leverage’ an issue that arose in 2004 leads to serious effects on businesses (1). During this period, the S. E. C allowed securities firms to up their leverage to levels unmatched before. Prior to this instance, leverage stood at 12 to 1. After this event, the leverage sky rocketed to 31 to 1 (Blinder, 1). This is a pointer to madness on the side of the S. E. C and firms’ heads. It is known that at 33 to 1 leverage, a small decline, for example a three percent decline in assets valuation can lead to a wiping out of a business company.
If the authorities had ensured that the leverage was kept at 12 to 1, then the firms would have remained stable as they would not have grown that big or exposed to vulnerability. The firms being examined in this study equally let their officials exceed their normal leverage explaining why the effects were lethal. Findings When Eurex issued a warning, the Societe Generale officials did not respond adequately, instead they took to time wasting with a view to getting the issued buried. Warnings are expected to serve an entity to refocus or correct something going wrong.
The Societe Generale group did not heed this, nor did Amaranth do. The officials of Societe Generale affirmed that there was nothing wrong with the transactions executed by Kerviel. This is an indication that Kerviel must have been operating under the protection of big officials at the institution or that the institution checking mechanisms were amiss. The internal self regulating and checking mechanism were in a total mess. This explains why Kerviel was able to wage such criminal activities without being noticed. However, this may point to another issue concerning politics of organization.
Accomplices must have been used from the highest levels of management. For Kerviel to engage in this act, he must have been damn aware that there was some form of protection that would come his way. Risk ventures hold huge potential both in reference to loss and profit making. Societe Generale encouraged traders to continue engaging in such ventures. Jerome Kerviel claimed that superiors were aware of his actions. The losses incurred by Societe Generale were reflected in a very short time; three days. This does not however imply that prior to this; the business was in a sound position.
This is because before such a position is reached, there must have been factors at play. The senior management based in Dublin and Baltimore failed to focus on the happenings at Allfirst. The role of any management team in all organizations is and remains one of overseeing the transactions executed. Simply put, the management should sanction all activities. Activities which carry the importance as the one carried out by Jerome Kerviel should have been closely monitored. However, this was not done. The betting business is a risky business venture which Allfirst bank encouraged.
It is a fact that profits can be made in this business. However, it is also possible to make huge losses which may lead to collapse of a business entity. On this basis, there are regulative measures always put in place to guide in the setting the right amount to be gambled. Laxity in rules comes into the fore as Rusnak was given a relatively big sentence at the beginning but this was watered down to a mere 7 years though the culprit ended up serving even less. The amount payable back; 1 000 US dollars presented a slap in the face of justice considering the amount of losses the person had led Allfirst into incurring.
The foreign exchange rules requiring the disapproval of suspicious ventures was also discarded as Rusnak continued with his business unhindered. Internal mechanisms at Allfirst and AIB at first claimed there was nothing sinister about Rusnak’s engagements. All other bank officials were cleared of any wrong doing claiming that there was no form of collusion between Rusnak and any member at the bank. The middle and the back office must have slept on the job. They did little to seek valid information from independent sources regarding exchange rates.
In addition to this, the audit carried out by the bank examined only a single transaction involving the activities of Rusnak. How fair was this? The back office at the treasury issued a warning of impropriety at the bank concerning Rusnak’s activities, but this was either unheeded or ignored. The senior management monitoring and control system like auditing were overrated as they miserably failed on the very aspect they were there for. Just like Allfirst and the Societe Generale group, Amaranth Advisors engaged in a very risky trading system. Thus the uncertainty in the bank was bound to reflect on its financial and business health.
Unregulated leverage was the crucial issue that brought down the bank. Brian Hunter the fellow behind the scam at Amaranth Advisors was given special treatment. Rusnak overstepped his mandate and traded beyond Amaranth Advisors’ limits. While Rusnak was doing this, the Amaranth Advisors just like the other two companies had internal mechanisms of regulating and monitoring activities within the organization. Outside regulators were also in place. The fact that both internal and outside sources of regulation failed to act puts such bodies or departments on the spot. Comparison of findings
Poor rules and regulations regarding business operations are found to be reflected by the three business entities. Rules and regulations play a very pivotal role in the running of a business. Such rules and regulations stem from either within or from outside a business. The regulations relating to trading limits were flouted. Internal and external mechanisms equally failed to unearth these events. Where they were unearthed by external offices, the establishments at the three companies poured cold scorn on the advice. It appears like engineering episodes that were bound to happen.
In the three cases, there are single individuals masterminding huge scandals. What baffles scholars and the public alike is the manner in which the events proceeded undetected for a long period of time. With the current levels of technology, it also leaves a lot to be desired why institutions like these could not use such technological assistance. Office politics, a regular phenomenon in most public offices also rears its ugly head again. The revelation by the former chief economist, Yves-Marie Laulan that what happened at Soceite Generale was inevitable offers strong support to this position.
Yves-Marie Laulan further claimed that some things are hard enough and thus difficult to control, an implication that the economist could have well been aware the scam was in the making. The fact that when red flags were raised in these scandals nothing of note was taken by the companies serves as a pointer that senor and powerful individuals were behind the scams. Only that, they were achieving their goals through proxies. The proxies in the cases include the three individuals mentioned as the perpetrators of the scam. Rules regarding business operations were flouted.
If rules and regulations are not obeyed things are bound to go awry at some point. The trading limit rules were ignored by these companies. Risk ventures which were suspect in nature were let tom thrive. As if that wasn’t bad enough, warnings issued were ignored. Where they were heeded, the approach was truly sluggish in nature. The companies; Amaranth, Allfirst, and Societe Generale presented cases of flouting expected levels of leverage. It is crucial that leverage levels be kept at the right level if businesses are to remain afloat. In the cases of the three businesses, this was never observed.
The failure to observe set rules and regulations serves to point to impropriety in handling the businesses. Discussion On the basis of findings, it is discernable that there was laxity in rule implementation. Every trade has its regulations which aid operations in day to day transactions. The three entities examined in this survey exhibit an unwillingness or sluggish nature in implementing the regulations of business. In the three cases, the three culprits wee found to have operated way beyond the limits set by their businesses. System weakness and other failures are equally found to have served as impediments in the success of business.
The scandals raised or rather examined in this paper are of big magnitude. However, despite calls for investigations and the raising of alarm bells in reference to the scandals at their initial stages, nothing worthy was engineered to curtail the explosion of the scandal. Every system is supposed to regulate itself fully. A system that fails this test is out of sorts and lacks the legitimacy of being in operation. Assuming that there was no abetting of these criminal activities in the respective scandals, then the systems regulation and control mechanisms were a total mess.
Such systems should e replaced and completely done away with. Technology plays a critical role in present day business activities. For example, it aids the flow of transactions in a very expedient and efficient manner. Thus each company is encouraged to employ latest and up to date technologies in order to move a business forward in tandem with present trends. However, the scenario at Alfirst points to a different direction. The use of the Crossmar Matching System to monitor trade should have been used, working as a group would have equally helped.
Instead of applying this latest technological support, Allfirst was employing the use of telephone and fax. The use of spreadsheets to feed information regarding exchange rates to the business is also another shortcoming attributable to the inability of the business from taking important and necessary steps in addressing business requirements. Simply put, it is a shame that a company of Alllfirst’s stature could be using the methods mentioned above. Whichever explanation is given in support of this position is unacceptable and unwelcome to level headed individuals.
One of the greatest mistakes of the companies though not expressly captured in the paper relates to office politics. Office politics is almost commonplace in every business as human beings often tend to align themselves to different cocoons at the work place. However, it is the duty of the top management to focus on this aspect and ensure that office politics does not work to the detriment of an entity. If a business leadership fails on this, then there is no good in the office leadership being in office. A closer look at events in the three scandals implies an absence of good leadership characterized by political intrigues.
When warnings were issued at initial stages of the scandal, the top leadership in the organizations seemed to brush aside the allegations. They equally failed to investigate and either authenticate or dispel the rumors in total. This, in my considered view, was an act outlining a possibility of role playing in which case the top leadership was an accomplice in the scandals. In the case of Allfirst, the preferential treatment of one employee illustrated by receiving extra perks and being allowed to work from home also underscores the point.
The key to success in any business rests on good management practices (Barrett, 51). This points to the ability of the management to set achievable goals and embarking on a mission towards realizing them. For success to be attained, the management must outline the necessary tasks in setting up and managing the business. The goals set for the business must be measurable in performance terms. Towards that end, major goals should be broken into smaller goals. These sub goals should have timelines which must be observed. This is an area in which the businesses failed leading to the witnessed scandals.
After setting goals and the sub goals, the individual owner or manager must move into action and make the necessary steps towards attaining them. The efforts required in achieving the different goals and sub goals are different, then the deviations should be reflected in the actions or the steps taken towards the achievement. The required effort must remain reasonable so as not to discourage the manager. Caution should be taken to avoid chasing too many goals as such pursuit may scuttle the success of a business (Wright, 75). In this regard, priorities must be set.
The businesses studied in this research should prioritize vigilance and caution while trading. The planning and setting of goals must be done well in advance. This enables the manager to understand what to expect in most circumstances. As the business grows the set goals should gradually be achieved as such achievement is expected to motivate the manager. Normally, obstacles will be on the way of any business venture, this should be anticipated and provided for in terms of arrangements to counter or mitigate the effects (Wright, 75). The businesses mentioned in this study should have done this to avoid such scandals.