The $2 Billion UBS Incident: ‘Rogue Trader’ My Ass
By Matt Taibbi
The news that a “rogue trader” (I hate that term – more on that in a moment) has soaked the Swiss banking giant UBS for $2 billion has rocked the international financial community and threatened to drive a stake through any chance Europe had of averting economic disaster. There is much hand-wringing in the financial press today as the UBS incident has reminded the whole world that all of the banks were almost certainly lying their asses off over the last three years, when they all pledged to pull back from risky prop trading. Here’s how the WSJ put it:
The Swiss banking giant has been struggling to rebuild trust after running up vast losses in the original financial crisis. Under Chief Executive Oswald Grubel, the bank claimed to have put in place new risk management practices, pulled back from proprietary trading and focused on alow-risk client-driven model.
All the troubled banks, remember, made similar promises in the wake of the financial crisis. In fact, some of them used the exact same language. Some will recall Goldman’s executive summary from earlier this year in which the bank pledged to respond to a “challenging period” in its history by making changes.
“We reviewed the governance, standards and practices of certain of our firmwide operating committees,” the bank wrote, “to ensure their focus on client service, business standards and practices and reputational risk management.”
But the reality is, the brains of investment bankers by nature are not wired for “client-based” thinking. This is the reason why the Glass-Steagall Act, which kept investment banks and commercial banks separate, was originally passed back in 1933: it just defies common sense to have professional gamblers in charge of stewarding commercial bank accounts.