Enrich served as the WSJ's European Banking Editor during the runup to the financial crisis of 2008 and in its aftermath, as bankers who'd brought the world's economy to its knees took home huge bonuses while their employers sucked up billions in taxpayer bailouts. He found himself a confidant of Tom Hayes, the only banker to do serious time for the LIBOR scandal, and recorded hours and hours of frank interviews with Hayes and his wife.
This affords Enrich a unique perspective on the LIBOR scandal, one that he fleshes out with admirable depth using court testimony and the astounding mountain of evidence drawn from the archived chats and voice-calls by the bankers who conspired together to rip off the entire planet.
What emerges from the story is a picture of mediocrity clothed in tailor-made suits. Buffoonish brokers bribe odious traders with overpriced Champagne to get their business, while the whole gang wheedles lazy, asleep-at-the-switch colleagues to falsify the data in the spreadsheet cells that are treated as empirical market benchmarks but are literally just made-up numbers. Regulators look the other way, compliance officers pretend they don't see anything, and when government lawyers finally take an interest, they get halfway through their investigations before quitting their jobs and going to work for the banks they've been prosecuting, with multi-million-dollar hiring bonuses.
Meanwhile, the crooked trading turns out to all be a socially useless casino, not "providing liquidity" or "allocating capital" or "discovering prices" but just spinning the wheel and throwing the dice with other peoples' money.
The (mostly) men involved in the scam are painted as a thoroughly dislikable lot, but without resorting to caricature. Rather, Enrich invites us to empathize with them -- understand their motives and the framework they live in -- without sympathizing (letting them off the hook for their shitty behavior).
Hayes is at the center of the book: on the autistic spectrum, often foolish, mathematically brilliant, personally deplorable at nearly every turn. But he is still a figure that Enrich finds empathy for, even managing the trick of getting us to root for him now and again as he bellows abuse at the people around him (it helps that most of them are no better).
Enrich is doing important work here, making one of the most significant, complicated and boring affairs of the past decade into something accessible, exciting, and salient. This is financial writing at its best.
It's been a whole day since we learned about another example of systematic, widespread fraud by America's largest bank Wells Fargo (ripping off small merchants with credit card fees), so it's definitely time to learn about another one: scamming mortgage borrowers out of $43/month for an unrequested and pointless "home warranty service" from American Home Shield, a billion-dollar scam-factory that considers you a customer if you throw away its junk-mail instead of ticking the "no" box and sending it back. (more…)
Wells Fargo didn't just steal millions from its customers with crooked overdraft fees, didn't just create 2,000,000 fraudulent accounts and threaten to blackball employees who tried to stop the frauds; didn't just defraud broke mortgage borrowers by the bushel-load -- they also defrauded 800,000 customers with car loans, forcing 274,000 of them into deliquency and "wrongfully repossessing" (that is, stealing) 25,000 of their cars. (more…)
Shortly after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, the Department of Labor's whistleblower site -- for Wells Fargo employees who wanted to report fraud in the ongoing scandal affecting millions of Americans -- disappeared. (more…)
Obama’s legacy: eight years of not holding executives criminally responsible for their companies’ misdeeds
The most remarkable criminal justice story of 2017 is that the FBI has arrested a real corporate criminal, a VW executive who tried to engineer a coverup of the Dieselgate scandal, and that he might go to jail -- it's remarkable because the Obama administration spent eight years resolutely not sending criminal executives to jail, preferring instead to let their corporations buy their way out of criminal sanctions with huge fines, a doctrine pioneered by Obama Attorney General Eric Holder back when he worked for Bill Clinton's administration. But while Clinton rejected this idea, Obama put it into practice. (more…)