Wednesday 12 March 2014

Jerôme Kerviel: Saint or Villain?

I was struck by the headline, that Jerôme Kerviel, the convicted ex trader from Société Générale for the 4.9 Billion Euro trading loss back in 2007-8, had just met Pope Francis. Kerviel had a special audience with the pontiff who seemed very disturbed by what he heard, and Kerviel is currently on a pilgrimage walking back to Paris from Rome with a rosary, seeking divine justice in what he calls the ‘tyranny of the markets’ whilst awaiting the result of his appeal.

It is not my position to pass judgement before the appeal has reached its verdict in this particular case. Kerviel may or may not be guilty and by no means am I saying he was an angel. The man will no doubt accept his fate and serve the consequences. What is clear from this head line is that he is not the only one and there has to be a wider issue at stake here? In other words Société Générale looks suspiciously guilty. The French Bank is already under US investigation for other serious matters. If it is true that certain senior key staff knew of the malpractice and what he was doing, then the bank needs to be made accountable, heads will nead to roll and other criminal charges may well need to be pursued. To make someone a scapegoat from a supposedly trustworthy institution is both weak and pathetic and reflects if anything a culture ruled by fear irrespective of the amount of money involved.

I am not one to claim inside knowledge of the French financial system nevertheless my gut feeling tells me it is partially flawed which is most likely down to the colluding and/or cronyism between Government officials and leaders of their banks. According to Wikipedia, both the former CEO and current CEO were educated at the Institute d’Etudes Politique de Paris and were Civil or Public Servants by profession and experience and each followed very similar career paths. The current CEO Fredrik Ordea, before he joined the bank was a plain civil servant who worked for the office of Nicolas Sarkozy in the 90's. Does that qualify them as Commercial Bankers? It may be ok if Soc. Gen was a public state run service except that it is not.

On the other end of the spectrum and across the Channel, things are done differently where progress is being made. The UK Parliamentary commission on banking standards has already reviewed their own financial system on their own back yard and done their own mirroring. Last year in their report, they had already pointed out the lack of accountability and responsibility, issues of high rewards offered for high risk, and incentivising misconduct amongst senior bankers. The UK goes as far as proposing criminal charges to help restore our trust. Solutions are not easy but they are there and will always remain challenging to implement as many of us are adverse to change particularly where money is involved and certain livelihoods could be at stake. Some banks have got the message and are reviewing their mission, corporate governance & values, leadership, pay, and training and so on. Others such as the Co-op just cannot cope and many still remain indifferent.

Money must be there to serve and not to rule. In the case of the latter then this is tyranical by its very own nature resulting to endless conflicts of interest, exploitation, misconduct and mistrust. Many think that money can buy ourselves out of trouble, instead we have learnt it can pay a very heavy price. Lest not forget how the financial crisis was caused? Should the perpetrators be brought to justice with a Hague Tribunal?

In some quarters the message is not clear, there still exists a sub culture of sleaze and corruption amongst parts of the financial and wider intermediary sector as the raw truths in the film 'The Wolf of Wall Street correctly exposes. (A film I do not wish to see for personal reasons). If we do not go through this change in our behaviour and attitude, for many our next precipice will be too great to bear. This is why we must care, and all do our bit and work for the common good of our world, our society, our family and our children. Take your pick.

Jerôme Kerviel was a product of the flawed system and culture. I cannot but admire his walk regardless of the verdict and I am in two minds to join and support him. That is a trek of 1.380KM ! Is Kerviel showing us the long walk to a life in chains confined to a prison with a cliff fall in our midst or is he showing us the long walk to recovery, change and true freedom?

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