News

At last……

November 14 2018

2,185 days after he was convicted of two counts of fraud by abuse of position at Southwark Crown Court on 20th November 2012 after a 10-week trial, and despite a shamelessly self-pitying and self-justifying campaign to avoid the consequences of his actions, Adoboli has finally been deported to his home country, Ghana.

The wheels of British justice grind exceedingly slow but they do – eventually – get there.

Let’s put those 2,185 days into a bit of perspective.

  • Amount of money lost by his fraudulent trading: US$2,500,000,000.  (If the sums spent by UBS on remediation and dealing with the consequences of this loss were added in, the totals would be truly eye-watering.)
  • Days spent on remand before his trial: 267
  • Days spent by my team and others working on the investigation: 438
  • Sentence: 7 years or 2,556 days
  • Time actually spent in prison following his sentence: 946

As the City of London Police said following his conviction: “This was the UK’s biggest fraud, committed by one of the most sophisticated fraudsters the City of London Police has ever come across.”  The trial judge, Mr Justice Keith, admirably summed up his character when he described him as a gambler, arrogant and in denial and said that he was: “profoundly unselfconscious” of his own failings.

But despite his masterly conduct of the trial, Mr Justice Keith did not explain in his sentencing remarks why what Adoboli did was so wrong, why fraud – of any type – is so damaging and this lacuna is perhaps symptomatic of our failure to take fraud as seriously as we should, as some other countries do.  After all, if the UK’s biggest fraud does not result in the maximum sentence, what will?

Fraud is too often seen as a victimless or somewhat technical crime or, perhaps more accurately, the victims, especially institutions, are seen as unsympathetic and partly responsible for their plight.  After all, who cares if an arrogant bank loses some money.  They are not like some naive widow conned out of her life savings.  Who gets hurt, really?

But the damage that fraud does is not the loss of money, bad as that can be.  Nor is it even the damage to reputation – and that can be very bad indeed and much more long-lasting than most think.

Fraud is damaging because it is so corrosive of the trust that is the essence of banking, that is – or should be – at the heart of any working environment, at the heart of any good relationship with colleagues, bosses, clients, the public, at the heart of any well-functioning community.  Fraud breaks those bonds of trust.  When someone is trusted and they let you down by lying, by cheating, by taking advantage, by behaving like Adoboli did, like many other fraudsters have done, real people are hurt.  Worse – the very idea of having confidence – in the institution, in your colleagues, in banking as a dependable underpinning of our society – is damaged and takes time to rebuild.  A fraudster does not just destroy their own reputation.  Their actions chip away at the reputation of everyone else in their sector.  And they make it just that bit harder for those people – however good, however hard-working, however trustworthy – to be trusted by others, by the public.

That is the real harm that fraud does.  We would do well to take it more seriously than we do.

 

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Remembrance

November 10 2018

7 May 1912: The University of Cambridge grants Stephen Michael Barry-Walsh, a 31 year-old Irish doctor from Kilmallock, a certificate stating that he had proved himself by “his KNOWLEDGE and SKILL in SANITARY SCIENCE, to wit in Chemistry and Physics in the causes and prevention of Epidemic and Infectious Diseases and in the means of remedying or ameliorating those Circumstances and Conditions of life which are know to be injurious to health as well as in the Laws of the Realm relating to Public Health is CERTIFIED to be well qualified in respect of Knowledge and Skill aforesaid to fulfil the Duties of a Medical Officer of Health.”  With this certificate he became Dr S.M. Barry-Walsh, M.D., B.A. and D.P.H. (National University of Ireland), D.P.H (Cantab).

August 1914: His brother, Eugene, a Kilmallock farmer, sits on the sandy beach at Youghal, Ireland with his 15 month-old son, born in April 1913, between his legs.  Eugene is in his Sunday suit, crisp white shirt with wing collar and neatly knotted tie, a smart hat on his head.  Propped up against his knee stands a small boy in a white short and shorts with wide braces fixed with buttons, a sun hat on his head as he squints into the sun.  That boy, also named Stephen, later became a doctor.  There are 7 more brothers and sisters, the last of whom dies in 2013.

On this day, however, Ireland was still part of the British Empire, whose monarch had made a successful visit to the oldest and nearest part of their Empire three years earlier.  No-one could foresee the type or length of war that was about to start.  Nor that barely 6 years later in May 1920 Kilmallock Barracks would be the subject of one of the largest attacks by the IRA in ferocious fighting during an Irish civil war.

 

8 September 1915: Dr Stephen Michael Barry-Walsh, by now a Lieutenant 1st Cavalry, Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, dies of his wounds aged 34.  He is buried in Calais Southern Cemetery.

The first entry in his war diary is on May 27th.  “12 noon. Message. “Send officer able to ride to report A-D.M 8 for service with 1st Cavalry Division.” Me.  Pack up. Send one box and one parcel of clothes home via Military Forwarding office Southampton.  Something will get there.” His first posting is in Rouen.

His last entry in his war diary is on July 26th 1915.  He has drawn a map of his camp near the Yser canal north of Ypres.  He writes: “Just before arriving…a motorcar overtook us and in it the D.A. DMS – to say that a note had been received from the General countermanding the previous day’s order.  It had rained very heavily all night and until about 6:30 in the morning.  So that we men had to strike camp in a deluge and of course got promptly soaked in the process.  We marched home on foot arriving shortly after nine.”

October – November 1917: Carlo d’Ayala Valva, a young engineer from Naples, fights in the battle of Caporetto, one of the bloodiest battles of WWI in the front between Italy and the Austrian Empire, a front at least as bloody as the trenches of Northern France.

 

 

1939 – 1945: Dr Stephen Barry-Walsh joins the RAF and becomes a Squadron Leader.                      

 

19 August 1944: It is the 17th birthday of Maria-Teresa d’Ayala Valva, the eldest daughter of Carlo d’Ayala Valva.  She, her 3 brothers and sisters, mother and grandmother, have been hiding in Rome (the family split up) to escape the bombing of Naples (the most bombed city in Italy) by the Allies.  Her father has remained in Naples in the family home; it too is bombed.  Her half-French mother, Jeanne, writes in a book (Ernest Daudet’s Jeunes Filles d’Autrefois”) she gives her daughter as a present: “A tes 17 ans qui fleurissent en un climat tragique de guerre, l’histoire de cette heroique jeune fille.” (For your 17th birthday which comes during a tragic time of war, this story of a heroic young girl.)

Many years later Maria-Teresa d’Ayala Valva and Dr Stephen Barry-Walsh marry.  They are my parents.  They have two children and three grand-children.

Those grand-children have a grand-father born before the start of WWI to parents who grew up during the Edwardian era.  But they will live the majority of their lives in the 21st century.  Both they and me and my brother have had the inestimable good fortune of living our lives without having had to fight or endure the agonies of war or its consequences. Our birthdays have not been against the background of tragic times.  We have been fortunate to live in a region and at a time when war in Europe has been unthinkable.

On this 100th anniversary of the Armistice which brought the First World War to an end, let us remember all those we have lost, all those who did not share our good fortune.  Let us remember our blessings.  And let us hope that the peace we enjoy now continues.

 

 

 

Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash

 

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

October 16 2018

Some 5 years after the Parliamentary Commission’s withering report on banking culture, it is the House of Commons itself – its MPs, senior management and staff – who face their own brutal and shocking appraisal.  The disgraceful and, in some cases, criminal conduct by some of them and their collective failure to deal, legally or adequately or at all, with bullying and harassment of junior staff, particularly women, by senior staff and MPs is laid bare in this report by retired judge, Dame Laura Cox.

It would perhaps not have been politic of those bankers – quizzed by the Parliamentary Commission about their failure to raise concerns about the misbehaviour of fellow traders and bankers – to have pointed out to their inquisitors that the number of MPs who blew the whistle on fellow MPs who broke the expenses rules and, in some cases, committed fraud was the grand total of zero.  (It would though have been hugely enjoyable for fans of sanctimonious humbug.) Those in the financial sector who had to take the MPs’ justified criticisms can perhaps now enjoy a touch of schadenfreude when they read Cox describe the omertà that many MPs practice in respect of bad conduct by one of their number” and that “Members turn a blind eye to dishonourable behaviour by others”. 

But the report goes further.   Despite the 1995 Nolan Committee report  on Standards in Public Life making it clear that MPs had to display the highest standards and that “it is essential for public confidence that they they should be seen to do so”, it seems – and who could possibly have foreseen this? – that self-regulation doesn’t work.   The Cox report describes an entrenched culture “cascading from the top down, of deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence, in which bullying and sexual harassment have been able to thrive and have long been tolerated and concealed.”  Processes and policies, no matter what fluffy names they are given (Cox is particularly critical of the “Valuing Others” policy) are described as not fit for purpose and not even compliant with existing laws on harassment and discrimination, let alone best practice.  Investigations are inadequate and carried out by amateurs.  Confidentiality is not respected, staff are fearful and unsupported and retaliation – or threats of it – are common.

The report makes for grim reading.  Even grimmer in the two days since its publication has been the defensive reaction of MPs and senior staff at the Commons at the very idea of having to take action beyond the token.  The House of Commons may consider itself a special case though, as Cox acidly points out, while “Members of Parliament are elected representatives…their mandate does not entitle them to bully or harass those who are employed….to support and assist them.”

But this report has much from which every employer, from senior managers down, and not just HR Departments, can learn.  In an era of #MeToo, of younger generations being unwilling (rightly) to put up with boorish (at best) and criminal (at worst) behaviour in the workplace, when an unhappy employee can create unwelcome publicity and force companies to take action, all organisations can learn from the failures so forensically dissected in this report.   It is not just Parliament which is a stressful workplace.  All workplaces are likely to face these problems to a greater or lesser extent and it is no easy task trying to handle matters which can range from someone being insensitive and impolite, via bullying, leering, insulting remarks all the way to actions which may amount to serious crimes.

Three points in particular are worth highlighting:

  • “devotion to process and language rather than to real effectiveness” is a waste of time.  Procedures and rules are necessary but never sufficient.  They are merely proof of the importance with which the issue is viewed.  But the real test of whether you have the right policies in place is whether your employees trust you to investigate properly and act on findings, no matter who is involved.  Without that trust even the best written procedures are mere will 0′ the wisps.
  • Those at the top have to lead by example.  In yesterday’s radio interview  Dame Laura posited three questions which those at the top should ask themselves when having to manage cultural change:
    • “Do I understand that radical change is needed?”
    • “Can I deliver that change?
    • “Will staff have confidence that I can deliver that change?”  Answering that third question honestly requires a level of self-knowledge and courage that is not as common as it should be.
  • Codes of Conduct are a fancy way of reminding people that good manners, politeness and civility matter.  At their heart, good manners are about being kind to others (and kindness is a much underrated virtue).   Employees, managers, colleagues, the temporary and contracting staff who do the myriad tasks which keep a workplace going, however senior or junior, are human beings, not simply resources.  Politeness and thoughtfulness to those around us cost nothing, can help mitigate even the most stressful of jobs and are the bare minimum which should be expected of – and for – all staff.

And, finally, not for the first – and certainly not for the last – time, if a problem happens, don’t ignore it.  “This cycle of repeatedly reacting to crises only after they have developed into crises, and sometimes only after unwelcome publicity, is a perilous approach to adopt for any organisation, but it is completely hopeless for a place of work.”

As for the House of Commons, if it really is serious about changing its culture, it needs to realise – as others have – that this is the work of years, not weeks or months, and is a task which is never finished.

 

Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash