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This year's scandal is brought to you by the forex market

About a year ago I had a coffee with a former foreign exchange trader (as you do) who said to me. "Liz, the next big scandal is going to be around all these banks rigging the foreign exchange market, and no one is reporting on it! It will be bigger than Libor!"

Well, a quick Google search revealed that quite a few trading and FX leaning trade press, as well as obscure publications like...ummm...the FT and Reuters, were indeed starting to report on the rumblings from the forex market.

However, over the past few weeks those rumblings have gotten louder - making it into such mainstream avenues as the BBC and Sky News, and of course Finextra. As you all know, at the end of September the Financial Conduct Authority met with a number of banks - including Barclays, Citi, HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, RBS and UBS to determine a global settlement as a result of the regulatory authorities probe into the manipulation of the global forex market.*

*Yippee! Another banking scandal! Let me get my cup of tea and a biscuit and sit down to read what's going on.

The FCA is reported to be looking at a first round of settlements to the tune of £1.5 billion to from the six banks above.

Just this past week Barclays announced it was setting aside £500 million to cover fines related to *alleged* forex manipulation.

RBS announced a reserve fund of £400 million for the currency probe.

While banking giant HSBC has £236 million in reserve in anticipation of the forex rigging investigations.

I spend a lot of time at Finextra talking to bankers, in videos on webcasts, over breakfasts and coffee (even a glass of wine or two), about how they are so over stretched with complying with regulations that they have no resources left over for improving customer service or innovating products.

I'm thinking I should add some new questions.

  • Have you factored in the fines and settlement costs for future banking scandals into your 'change the bank/maintain the bank' IT resource balancing act?
  • How do you calculate adequate capital reserves to cover the costs of traders chatting about nefarious activities on Facebook?

UBS, who has a the highest number of suspended traders - seven globally - connected to the FX scandal, recently imposed rules restricting the ability of certain employees to place personal trades alongside client transactions, according to the WSJ.

I'd like to look at this restriction as someone who has no knowledge of how trading floors and investment banks operate. Shouldn't trading for personal gain be restricted, already? What the...? What would you think if you walked into John Lewis and asked for 'a pair of pink shoes in a size 6, please?' only to be told by the salesperson 'In a minute, after I finish trying on these shoes myself?' Huh?

Now, a lot of the focus on investigations into the FX market centre on the use of chat rooms and social media. Finextra itself reported on the EU requesting Facebook threads and other non-trading terminal based social media chat in order to investigate market rigging activity.

Long before the likes of Facebook and Twitter were even a glint in the milkman's eye, traders have been chatting to each other on instant messaging boards, and trading terminals - which means either Bloomberg or [Thomson] Reuters. Reuters practically invented conversational dealing in the FX market several years ago.

Of course some of the chat rooms being investigated have tabloid-friendly, 'evil banker' type names such as the Cartel, the Mafia and the Bandits Club. 

The length and depth of this scandal - the use of Facebook, mobile phones, trading on ones own account alongside clients, never mind the long and storied culture of conversation and banter between traders - is a clue that the roots of this *alleged* market manipluation have nothing to do with lose risk controls or inaccurate risk calculations - like Libor before it - it has to do with culture.

A banking culture that is in all ways insular, patriarchal and absurd.

When you call your chat room, The Bandits Club, don't be surprised when society at large view all bankers as the pantomine villain and trust will never been won back with just a zippy mobile app or social trading platform.

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Elizabeth Lumley

Elizabeth Lumley

Global FinTech Commentator

Girl, Disrupted

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05 Nov 2007

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This post is from a series of posts in the group:

Financial Risk Management

This network brings together professionals involved in the oversight and management of their company's financial risks and exposures as well as solution vendors, in order to discuss risk issues including interest rate risk, foreign exchange risk and commodity price risk, among others.


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