Friday 23 November 2012

FSA fines UBS: Who's banking on wholesale change?

This week the FSA issued one of the largest fines in its history, following the conviction and sentencing of rogue trader Kweku Adoboli for two counts of fraud by abuse of his position. In addition to Adoboli’s seven year prison sentence, UBS has been fined £29.7 million for system and control failing that allowed Adoboli to lose the bank £1.4 billion. The FSA’s view that UBS’s controls were “seriously defective” is an understatement.

This equates to the third largest fine the FSA has ever issued, beaten only by Barclays, which was fined £59.5m over the Libor scandal in June 2012 and JP Morgan which was hit for £33.3m in June 2010 for failing to protect client money.

In court, the jury was told the way in which Adoboli lost the money was “unprotected, unhedged, incautious and reckless”. In Adoboli’s defence argument, his lawyers made the point that the Swiss bank’s attitude to risk depended largely on how profitable it was and the culture was to ignore risk so long as it paid. But Perry Stokes the Deputy Chief Inspector outlined how this has become the “UK’s biggest fraud, committed by one of the most sophisticated fraudsters the City of London Police have ever come across.”

Adoboli’s actions cost fellow traders their jobs, prompted the resignation of the Chief Executive Oswald Gruebel and wiped £2.7bn from the UBS share price.

The lack of awareness Adoboli had for risk highlights major flaws in the banking sector, in terms of rogue traders themselves and the negative public image of banking as a whole. There is clearly a fixation on profits at any cost in the actions of Adoboli and an encouragement on behalf of the management for him to take greater risks – just until the house of cards came tumbling down.

These issues need to be addressed if the sector is going to be considered credible and trust worthy. The threat of an imposing prison sentence and fines for potential rule breakers will help develop this. Unless the current underlying culture within banking is addressed, nothing will change. In order to reduce the risk of future rogue trading, there needs to be a change in values, where risk management is prioritised over a yearning for profits at any cost. As well as this, a personal approach where individuals take more responsibility for their actions is required. Additionally the FSA should continue to issue fines and sanctions in the event of future misconduct.

Senior managers of such institutions must review the pressure they put on junior members to succeed, seemingly at any cost.

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