I cant help but feel that as Nick Leeson walked into the Celebrity Big Brother house last night his entry will have preplexed the nation and the rest of his housemates. A millon heads were scratached then index fingers employed as fans rushed to Google for the answer to the question, just who is Nick Leeson?
Barings Bank used to be a bankings collusus that included the Queen on its glittering list of clients. This was before Leeson literally brought the house down and caused a contagion which sent shockwaves through the worlds of finance and politics.
Leeson joined Barings during the 1980s stock market boom and quickly rose through the ranks to become a senior trader in the banks Singapore office. He was living the life of Riley, an annual salary of £50,000 and big bonuses as the cherry-on-the-top and his early trades were successful enough to propel him through the ranks at Barings and earn him a formidable reputation.
He was so successful that he was ‘let off the leash’ and allowed to make and close the deal which was properly speaking a two-person job. Later on, as things started to go wrong, this enabled him to successfully cover-up the substantial losses he was making.
Suddenly, the Midas effect was working in reverse, everything went wrong. He once bet heavy the market would stay still only to wake find the Kobe earthquake had sent stocks into a slide. As his losses stacked up he became more and more desperate and like any compulsive gambler on a losing streak rather than simply quit he simply bet more.
Eventually however he could no longer hide as his losses topped off over $1 billon he left a note on his desk saying ‘I’m Sorry’ and fled. He did not get far. He was arrested in Frankfurt and served 6 and a half years in a jail in Singapore. After serving 4, he was released in 1999 and wrote a book upon which the film Rogue Trader is based. He is now a popular after dinner and motivational speaker not to mention housemate in the CBB house.
Barings was however not so lucky and it collapsed under the weight of Leeson’s losses. What is more it became an emblem of the 80s ‘Greed Is Good’ culture and the failure of the financial sector to rein in its own instaible greed. Leeson’s exploits left an enduring legacy as a raft of new legislation was brought in by politicians under pressure from the resulting moral panic.
A word of advice to Leeson’s new housemates, best leave the biscuit tin cash stash well out of view…..