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Rediff.com  » Business » How a Turnaround Whiz was felled by Rogue Trader

How a Turnaround Whiz was felled by Rogue Trader

September 30, 2011 13:51 IST

Kweku Adoboli, a 31-year-old trader at UBS based in London makes Nick Leeson, once-legendary rogue trader at Barings Securities look like an amateur.

While Adoboli didn't exactly bring down the venerable Swiss bank like Leeson did with Barings, he did force the resignation of one of the most respected bankers in Europe, Oswald Gruebel.

Adoboli, who worked on the 'Delta One' desk in London, racked up $2.3 billion in unauthorised losses over three months while taking a series of speculative positions in stock market futures indices, using fake trades to conceal the true nature of his exposure.

Ironically, 67-year old Gruebel, who took the hit for Adoboli, was himself a former trader who didn't go through any formal education but joined an apprenticeship in banking and securities trading with Deutsche Bank in Germany.

He spent most of his working life at Credit Suisse, from 1985 until 2007, helped turn it around a decade ago and headed the firm since 2003.

A few years ago, UBS was in deep trouble. Following the mortgage derivative crisis, the bank unearthed $50 billion of toxic assets, causing a staggering $21.8 billion in losses.

(In October 2008 some of its most toxic securities were transferred to a special fund owned jointly with the Swiss National Bank.) If that wasn't bad enough, it got itself embroiled in a fractious tax-evasion scandal in which US authorities accused UBS of helping Americans dodge taxes.

The bank admitted that it went astray and settled. Gruebel helped stabilise the bank from these catastrophes and set it on a path to recovery only to encounter yet another financial fiasco. This time it unfortunately cost him his job.

Initially, Gruebel had indicated that he had no intention of resigning. A few things probably changed that decision.

A slew of board-related meetings was scheduled to be held in Singapore around the country's Formula One Grand Prix, which the bank was sponsoring.

On the eve of these meetings, the bank's biggest investor, Singapore's GIC state investment fund, was apparently incensed at the losses, expressed serious 'disappointment and concern' and asked for a thorough revamping of the bank's 'casino banking division'.

While the UBS would have preferred its turnaround expert to continue the job that he does so well, it was not on the cards. Gruebel resigned Saturday and the world financial system, short of safeguards or regulation in either the derivatives arena or trading in general, continues on blissfully ignoring the fact that the next debacle may very well sink it - the world economy - for a very long time to come.

Rajiv Rao
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