Monday, February 04, 2008

The soldier-monks of Societe Generale

Vive les moines-soldats!
NYTimes: ...The derivatives group started in the 1980s as a small team of highly trained and highly regarded engineers and mathematicians from the best schools. They quickly became known as “les moines-soldats,” the soldier-monks. And as their importance inside the bank grew, their confidence, even arrogance, grew with it.

Like the devout and disciplined fighters they were named for — the monks who fought in the Crusades — the soldier-monks of Société Générale prided themselves on rising above the passions that moved the masses.

Similarly, Société Générale’s soldier-monks believed that they could manage both the risk inherent in betting on the markets — through complex computer models — and the ardor of their regular traders, through controls.

Their hubris was having too much faith in their power to do either.

But they were dedicated to making Société Générale a world-class power in derivatives and, like the knights of old, they were fiercely competitive, both on and off the trading floor.

“We considered it a mission,” recalled Antoine Paille, who recruited Jean-Pierre Mustier, now the head of Société Générale’s corporate and investment bank. It was Mr. Mustier who ultimately confronted Mr. Kerviel after his fraud was discovered on Jan. 18. ...

A Red Flag Cited

Mr. Kerviel was never viewed as soldier-monk material. He was a provincial from decidedly middle-class stock — the son of a hairdresser and a metal- shop teacher — but he possessed an advantage that his better-bred superiors did not.

In his five years toiling in the back office before being promoted to Delta One in 2005, he had become expertly familiar with the proprietary system Société Générale used to book trades, known as Eliot inside the bank. While the risk-control department did monitor the bank’s overall positions very closely, it did not verify the data Mr. Kerviel entered into Eliot. And Mr. Kerviel knew the timing of the nightly reconciliation of the day’s trades by Eliot, so he was able to expertly delete and then re-enter his unauthorized transactions without being caught.

Mr. Kerviel’s method of entering trades was one red flag cited by Eurex in its initial warning, along with questions about two “large” positions — one net short position in DAX futures and one net long position in Euro Stoxx 50 futures. In the same letter, they asked what his investment strategy was and why these transactions were often entered through a London-based Société Générale subsidiary called FIMAT Futures Limited. Eurex even inquired whether Mr. Kerviel had entered the transaction automatically or manually.

“Please explain the background for this procedure,” two Eurex officials wrote to Xavier de la Maisonneuve, a compliance officer at Société Générale who has been questioned by investigators.

Vincent Duclos, another compliance officer in the equity derivatives division, not yet questioned by the police, provided the Nov. 20 and Dec. 10 responses to Eurex. His replies in part were based on accounts provided by Mr. Kerviel and his supervisor, as well as a compliance officer at FIMAT, said Jean Veil, a lawyer for Société Générale. Mr. Kerviel’s “supervisor had signaled that there was no anomaly whatsoever,” Mr. Veil said.

Mr. De la Maisonneuve, who received the initial query on Nov. 7, said the bank gets 15 to 20 queries from different exchanges each year, many of them from Eurex.

In a telephone interview Monday night, he insisted his team had been in telephone contact with Eurex after their two letters in November to ensure it would fully answer their queries.

“Their questions were based purely on strategy and procedure,” he said. “At no moment of these conversations was there any mention of abnormal volumes. They considered our second written response adequate and satisfying.”

He added that Eurex did not take up Société Générale’s offer of a conference call to further discuss the matter after the Dec. 10 letter.

A top official at Société Générale, who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said that in the weeks after the Eurex warning, Mr. Kerviel was shaken, and took additional steps to cover his tracks. He tried to manipulate areas of the internal risk-control system he was unfamiliar with, which ultimately led to the discovery of his suspected fraud in mid-January.

In his testimony to the police, however, Mr. Kerviel identified two members of the Delta One team he said were familiar with his activities going back to last April. These colleagues, according to lawyers familiar with the case, were Martial Rouyère, head of the Delta One trading desk, and his deputy, Eric Cordelle. Mr. Rouyère has since been questioned by the French authorities. Mr. Veil said he expected Mr. Kerviel’s “entire hierarchy,” including Mr. Mustier, to eventually be questioned by the police. ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

the monks came from this school

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