Nick Leeson was in town on Friday night, talking at a Square Mile event held at the Mayfair Hotel. He was refreshingly candid about the part he played in the collapse of Britain’s oldest merchant bank, Barings, and the decisions he took on the futures market in Singapore leading up to that day.
Speaking informally, interspersed with video clips of news bulletins from the time and clips from the Hollywood film Rogue Trader, Nick made a compelling case for how easy it became – given the lack of checks on his activities and the praise from London bosses who seemed to have no understanding of derivatives – for things to get out of control.
What was most staggering was to compare the more recent cases of Société Générale’s Jérôme Kerviel and UBS’s Kweku Adoboli with what happened to Nick over 15 years ago. Has nothing changed? According to Nick, the answer is no. He blames bank executives and their internal systems of regulation for having little or no understanding of their traders’ activities.