Monday, December 19, 2011

The Culture of Corruption

  I spent 20 years working on the fringes of the oil industry - mostly writing about trading and oil prices and OPEC, but also broking a bit and doing some (dreaded) marketing of oil price services. Once I left Platts, the oil industry bible owned by McGraw-Hill's Standard & Poors, people within the industry opened up to me a little and I got a taste for just how corrupt the oil industry is. From blatant bribery of government officials to inspectors and, yes, reporters the corruption in that business was (and still is to an extent) all in a day's work.
  The corruption I see today in the financial services arena makes oil traders look like amateurs: Rogue traders such as Kweku Adoboli at UBS, with his $2.3 billion worth of hidden trading losses; MF Global with $1.2 billion of customer money seemingly vanishing into the maw of a bad trade on European debt; Ponzi schemes such as Bernie Madoff's. 
  Few oil traders would steal money from their firms to pay a bribe or for a client's night with an 'escort'. Also, few of them would hide trading losses until they escalated into disaster. It is difficult to hide losses on a cargo that got delivered and paid for. Most of their activities, while under the radar of much of the world, were above board and known by management (if slightly less than legal).
  There is a culture of greed infiltrating the financial markets and it isn't pretty. It leads to the kinds of major corruption we saw in 2011 and all sorts of minor, though still significant, acts of creative accounting which we may never see. But shareholders and customers of these firms are paying the price. Occupy Wall Street may have had a point, even if they weren't quite sure what it was.
  Happy Christmas!

No comments:

Post a Comment