“Remember that failure is an event, not a person” – Zig Ziglar
I am sorry that I have to suspend the continuation of last week’s article. I feel compelled to do this because I wish to dedicate today’s article to Mr. Kweku Adoboli, formerly of UBS, who was deported from the UK last week after serving a jail term followed by a long battle with the UK authorities to stay in the UK, where he had lived for about twenty-six years. Kweku, whatever has happened, you are welcome home. I know you will continue to tell your story to the world.
I do not condone wrong-doing and unethical practices in workplaces, but I firmly believe that this story is rather going to be a wake-up call to both employers and employees on the need to be transparent and ethical in their activities. This is a story of a rising star who, despite his inexperience, was placed in a sensitive position of managing huge funds – monitored by ignorant supervisors whose main focus seemed to be achieving their impossible corporate dreams at whatever cost.
The Unique Background and Journey of Kweku Adoboli
Kweku has a unique background in family, school and work: Kweku Adoboli is a Ghanaian-born British citizen and was an investment banker at Swiss bank UBS’ Global Synthetic Equities Trading team in London, and is best known for his role in the 2011 UBS ‘rogue trader’ scandal. Adoboli was born in Ghana in 1980 but has lived in the UK since 1991.
He is the son of a senior United Nations official from Ghana and grew up in Israel, Syria and Iraq before being sent to Ackworth School in West Yorkshire, where according to the Times, he became the head-boy. Adoboli graduated from the University of Nottingham in July 2003 with an honours degree in computer science and management. From 2006 to 2011, he worked at UBS’s Equity Trading division as a trader analyst in the bank’s city of London office. Prior to this, he had been a trade support analyst at the same bank.
Adoboli was arrested for fraud in connection with a loss of over US$2billion, due to unauthorised trading at UBS’ investment bank in September 2011, and was charged with fraud by abuse of position and false accounting. He was eventually found guilty of fraud in November 2012. The jury however found him not guilty of ‘false accounting’ charges. He served half of his seven-year prison sentence.
The ‘People Risk’ Issues in Banking
This star case has really been food for thought to employees working in similar situations, where the main focus is meeting targets to boost their companies’ bottom line. The typical ‘people risk’ issues that end up with frauds and loses include the following:
- Lack of proper supervision
- Lack of training
- Inadequate leave periods, leading to burn-out
- Lack of segregation of duties
- Unknowledgeable/ignorant supervisors
- Discriminatory reward systems and sanctions
- The ‘Godfather’ syndrome
- Supervisors ‘shutting their eyes to the obvious’ and urging subordinates to meet targets at whatever cost.
Most of these risk issues can be found in the Adoboli case. My first article on Kweku Adoboli’s case was written in April 2014. The only evidence we had at that time was from newspaper summaries of the court proceedings. I have been using the case in most of my Operational Risk Management training. and fortunately had the opportunity to exchange a few emails with him after he was released from prison.
I have since been following him, and watched his videos as he shared his experiences with students and young professionals to prevent them from going through similar experiences in their workplaces. His interview on BBC and other news items have been very revealing, as we now know the ‘other side’ of the story.
Failure is not Fatal
Within the last five years of my contribution to banking knowledge in this newspaper, I have written many articles on the ‘soft issues’ in banking which – if not well-handled – have been putting financial institutions at risk. These examples are titled:
- “Rolling with the Punches”
- “You make mistakes. Mistakes don’t make you”
- “The Betrayal of Trust: The People Risk in Banking”
- “See the writings on the wall and save your bank from Collapse”
- “Ethics in Banking: The True Key to Banking Success”
- “Where is the God-factor in the Financial Services Industry?”
In life, many obstacles or challenges that we come across eventually become opportunities for revolutions and paradigm shifts. I take this case very seriously, because I have read, seen and heard about many similar cases in the financial industry across the world.
I have watched many ‘high-fliers’ or ‘stars’, even in the Ghanaian industry, go down after being involved in cases from which their ‘Godfathers’ subsequently distanced themselves. It is intriguing to see how a star can fall from hero to zero and be treated afterward like an outcast by the very people they ‘served loyally’. There are allegations made by many people that Adoboli was ‘sacrificed’ by both his peers and his supervisors. Interestingly, his motive was not personal gain.
The ‘Open Dishonesty’
One interesting aspect of Adoboli’s case is the fact that he said he wasn’t secretive about what he was doing, as he felt he wasn’t being dishonest. Adoboli said he felt comfortable that his actions were known by his peers and supervisors who condoned them. Adoboli’s defence claims the UBS management knew of his actions. I am not surprised UBS prevented his colleagues from testifying that they were aware or even involved.
Tips on The Road to Recovery and Restrategising
Adoboli’s interviews show that he is certainly on the right path to recovery. I believe he is a hot-cake for Ghanaian employees and employers to take advantage of and pay him for sharing the experience, whether good or bad. Here are a few tips for anyone in a similar situation on the road to recovery after a failure. Check whichever some are relevant for your circumstances. You are human, mourn your losses – but set a timetable to move on.
- Blow off a little steam, cry if you feel like it. It is refreshing to the soul. Talk to a confidant or mentor; or better still, your pastor.
- Take a break, either a well-deserved vacation or go back to your family roots, the village, the beach, and have a change of weather at little cost.
- Be more spiritual. We have an all-faithful God who never leaves us.
- Use the experience as a learning curve. If you can, change your situation by learning new things. I remember the case of a prominent Police Chief who had issues with the law. He used the period of recovery to study law. Guess what? He came top of the class and bounced back stronger and is a specialist on his own. You can imagine what a combination of law and policing can make one become!
- Your ‘haters’ will be pleasantly surprised at your remarkable recovery, so prove to them that you cannot be broken.
- Find strength in your failure and bounce back to an even higher place.
- If you have to look for a new job, don’t be afraid. Just put your best foot forward and rely on those skills you’ve been cultivating.
- Champion your successes to the world. Social media will help you to advance your career or cause.
- Understand your strengths and weaknesses. You don’t necessarily have to change, but from this you can learn to understand and appreciate those circumstances where you will excel as well as those where you may fall short. Use this knowledge as a tool for building your confidence and self-esteem.
- Don’t forget that time will heal. It is natural to feel overwhelmed and stressed. Tell yourself that in a month, a year, a decade from now, things will be different.
- Appreciate and accept change. Whether the change is good or not, it is a part of life and is often something that we cannot control. The best way to cope with unwanted change is to accept it and adjust your plans accordingly.
- Stay fit and healthy. Take care of yourself, take some time for yourself so that you can enjoy simple pleasures such as a reading, browsing, good music and the company of good friends.
We have all made mistakes on the job before, perhaps even indulged in unethical acts. We have a God of second chances, which will make one stronger, experienced and more risk-conscious. You may go through some of the above procedures and emotions, and occasionally suffer from victimisation. If you are able to withstand all these tests, and go through the recovery exercises, it will make you acquire a good risk culture and you will become an invaluable asset in your new endeavours.
Most important is what has been learnt from the experience and how it is shared, to avoid other employees repeating the same mistake.
Dear Kweku, I am sure this experience will make you stronger and you will bounce back with full force. While working to reverse the deportee-tag around your neck, don’t stop sharing with others in similar roles in the financial sector across the world.
Don’t worry about the ‘G20 world’. Other global giants need your input. This is the time when such incidences can be used as teaching aids while structures are reviewed, and training programmes intensified to bring them to the barest minimum. We wish you best of luck and fortune.
About the author
Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She is the Author of two books: “The 21st Century Bank Teller: A Strategic Partner” and “My Front Desk Experience: A Young Banker’s Story”. She uses her experience and practical case studies for training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations and fraud.