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Monday, June 14, 2010

Rogue Trading Below the Radar

Posted by John Bates

Jerome Kerviel, the trader who allegedly lost Societe Generale nearly 5.0 million euros, went on trial in Paris on Tuesday, June 8th. The bank alleges that Kerviel took "massive fraudulent directional positions" in 2007 and 2008, which were far beyond his trading limits.

It is interesting to note that Kerviel was not only experienced on the trading floor, but he also had a background in middle office risk management technology. It may have been this knowledge that enabled him to manipulate the bank's risk controls and thus escape notice for so long.

Still, it is perplexing that fraud on such a scale can go on without detection for so long, even if Kerviel did have an insider's knowledge of the firm's risk management systems. Internal risk controls are not something that a financial firm can take for granted, left to run unchecked or unchanged for months or years.

The detection of criminal fraud or market abuse is something that must happen in real-time, before any suspicious behaviour has a chance to lose a firm money or to move the market. Pre-trade risk management is paramount, with trading limits specified and checked in real-time. Internal controls should be monitored for possible manipulation, again in real-time. The good news is that technology does exist in the form of real-time surveillance software from companies can analyse data transactions by the millisecond.

Financial institutions need to start looking inward to improve standards, regardless of current regulation. Otherwise the culture of greed and financial gain at all costs will encourage more and more Kerviels.

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Comments

Peter Lin

I've said this dozens of times on other blogs, but i will say it again. No amount of technology can solve a human problem. Most firms buy compliance software because it is required, but very few if any use it correctly. In my short experience, most firms hate the fact they have to use compliance software at all and dislike governments dictating what they can or cannot do. There's literally dozens and dozens of cases where violations "some how slipped" through the system. I've had the honor of working with compliance experts that have been doing it for 20+ yrs. From what I'm told, if the firms weren't required to run compliance they would be happier. Many firms that have commercial compliance software don't even run it. They just buy a license to check the "have compliance" box.

Let's not pretend that CEP is going to solve this issue or even make a qualitative change. Until the culture changes, really running rigorous compliance on pre and post trade isn't going to be the norm.

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