I was on my way to work this morning and in the car I was listening to Radio 4’s Today programme (a news analysis programme). One of the slots was an interview with Kweku Adoboli, the 36year old young man who racked up a loss of $2.3billion while a Trader at UBS London in 2012. The biggest single loss by a UK bank in modern times.
Adoboli was on the radio after serving half his jail sentence of 7years, admitting his mistakes, warning that bad practise is still prevalent in UK banks and appealing to people to help him fight deportation from the UK so he can turn his bad experience into good for others.
Adoboli was born in Ghana and travelled the world with his family as his father was a United Nations official. He went to some of the best academic institutions in the UK and was identified as a star student. He studied computer science and business management at Nottingham University and went on to become one of the most valuable traders at UBS London operations.
In 2012, a 2-minute phone call from one of UBS’s accountants asking Adoboli to clarify some of his trading positions set the ball rolling for one of the most fascinating cases in modern times about the dark arts of stock market trading.
He was sentenced to 7 years in prison after a detailed trial that put the microscope on what goes on at trading floors across some of Britain’s biggest banks. Adoboli highlighted the immense pressures put on traders by banks to make profit, hence making them take increasingly dangerous risks that eventually spiralled out of control in his own case. Unsurprisingly though, none of the top ‘brass’ in UBS were convicted of any wrongdoing.
Now Kweku Adoboli is out of prison after serving half his sentence and has said he is sorry for what he has done and takes full responsibility but believes what happened to him is still happening to traders across London, bank bosses pushing traders to the very limit, goading them on to take dangerous risks with investors’ cash, then disowning them when it all goes burst.
Adoboli led a chaotic life when working at UBS, often working very long hours and spending most of those hours trying to cover up his track of deceit and lies. He would create fake trading positions to mask losses and took huge gambles with investors money. He was also alleged to have harboured a gambling habit that saw him lose vast sums of his salary, that he resorted to borrowing money from pay-day lenders to make ends meet.
Adoboli’s biggest worry at the moment is now his own fate, he now faces deportation from the UK back to his home country Ghana as a result of being a convicted foreign criminal. Though Adoboli has lived in the UK since he was 12 years old, he never applied for British citizenship. He recently lost an appeal of the Home Office’s decision to deport him. Now unemployed, broke, living with friends and surviving through money sent to him by his retired father in Ghana, Adoboli is in a bit of a mess to put it lightly. This was a man who earned over £130,000 (around 5 times average UK salary) at the peak of his career at UBS, lived in an expensive London apartment, threw parties with friends at weekends, life was good. He has gone from grace to grass, from 100miles/hr to zero in the twinkle of an eye. He has been banned by the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) meaning he can no longer work in the financial services anywhere in the UK (and I’m sure no financial institutions in Europe will welcome him either).
The lesson I have learnt from this story is how quickly life can turn upside down when you make the wrong choices. Adoboli was under immense pressure from his bosses, but to meet those pressures he broke the law and paid a heavy price. The company he broke the law for continues to exist and he is now an outcast from that circle. There is no job worth ‘dying’ for.