The Times Alex Ralph
Rogue Trader Wants To Help Clean Up The City
Now, 20 years since the rogue trader was extradited to Singapore to be jailed for his part in the bank’s downfall, he is planning to return to the City to work in financial enforcement, entertaining the prospect of bringing on board Kweku Adoboli, another of the world’s most notorious rogue traders.
Leeson has co-launched an education, advisory and investigation firm called Risk Team and hopes the Square Mile is ready to listen to his “personal human message”.
He accepts he could still be treated as a pariah and that a stigma remains, but insists that “people should have gotten over it by now”, as he was “more than able to admit” his wrongdoing.
“That’s the first stage of the recovery… I’m not sure Adoboli’s there. Kerviel’s [the French rogue trader] definitely not there. He’s still blaming the bank and everybody else,” Leeson said.
He said that if Adoboli, the former UBS junior trader who was released from prison in June after being convicted of fraud, has “come to terms with it” and accepted his wrongdoing he might “have something to offer”, should he want to break into compliance training.
“He’s had a lot of time in prison and that’s where I really kind of went through that process. Has he accepted responsibility and accountability for everything because if he hasn’t he’s more of a fraud now than he was then.”
With a shaved head, and, by his own admission, a little overweight, Leeson no longer resembles the enduring image of the man in his mid-twenties sporting an Adidas sweatshirt and baseball cap turned back to front when he landed at Changi airport, escorted by security. But he thinks, two decades on, he has “still got something to offer”.
“I didn’t get where I was being stupid. I was quite good at my job.”
His downfall, which inspired a Hollywood film starring Ewan McGregor and Anna Friel, began when the then-28-year-old stepped on to the trading floor and faced “things I wasn’t equipped to deal with at the time”.
“If I had better training…I can’t prove it, but I’d genuinely like to think I would have made different decisions”.
Having survived colon cancer, which he was diagnosed with in prison, he penned a bestselling memoir, toured the after-dinner speaking circuit and pursued a number of ventures from running Galway United football club to working as an insolvency practitioner. However, he remains unfulfilled and wants to be successful again.
Supported by his business partner, Mike Finlay, a veteran risk professional, he has won a couple of overseas clients, but is reluctant to name the firms.
The company’s website carries endorsements from McKinsey, the consultancy company, Thomson Reuters and Gazprom, the Russian energy giant.
It is abroad where Leeson, who moved to Galway where he lives with his second wife and two step children, indicated that companies may be more receptive to his cautionary tale.
“I tend to find over the last twenty years a lot more of it [work] happens overseas … People are a lot more forgiving. They are willing to think a lot more outside the box in a non-conventional way. The City is still quite traditional and old school in the way it approaches it.”
He is hopeful he can talk the “new breed” round.
“There are a lot of myths to the story. And sometimes until you meet me and you hear me…there’s nothing to be scared of. It’s a story of incompetence and negligence.”
He said that regulation is no better than it was in his day and said that the problems always come down to the same issues: “Poor systems, poor controls and poor quality of people.”
“I still think that banks and organisations face a lot of the same problems that they did 25 years ago. And the key is for somebody who is going to ask those difficult questions. If you can’t do it internally, bring someone in.
“The complaint I hear now is that people are so bogged down with compliance, the reports that have got to be filled out, the latest piece of legislation … they are not challenging what goes on in the organisation … and that’s a serious problem.”
The recent high profile rogue trading cases, such as Tom Hayes, the former UBS and Citigroup trader, jailed for 14 years for rigging the Libor interest rate, are just the tip of the iceberg and the wrongdoing the public is aware of shows the financial system is no cleaner, he said.
“It’s bigger fines, it’s bigger sentences and that can only suggest to you that it’s either stayed still or there’s been a period deterioration.”
Twenty years after one of the biggest financial scandals, he hopes he has rehabilitated himself enough to help tackle that.
“I suppose I have a reputation now that’s vastly different than what it was when I came out of prison and that takes time”.