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I think it shows the financial markets world is a good deal less efficient than we believe.

If we
look at our bank statements, we can see computer errors, for example. And at the same time,
there's negligence. A lot of people turned a Nelsonic blind eye to what he (Leeson) was doing
because he seemed to be bringing in the profits." 1
- David Frost, Executive Producer, Rogue Trader.
"It could happen again because the incentives are the same, if not greater. The rewards are very
great and that's a temptation for people." 2
- Neil Wilson, Editor of Futures and Options Week.
Introduction
On February 26, 1995, Barings Bank (Barings) - the United Kingdom's (UK) oldest
and one of its most reputed banks - declared it was bankrupt.
The bank with a total net worth of $900 mn had suffered losses in excess of $1 bn.
These losses were result of the gross mismanagement of the bank's derivatives
trading operations by Nicholas William Leeson (Leeson), the General Manager of
Barings Future in Singapore (BFS).

BFS had been established to look after the bank's Singapore International Monetary
Exchange (SIMEX) trading operations. Leeson's job was to make arbitrage profits by
taking the advantage of price differences of similar contracts on the SIMEX
(Singapore) and Osaka stock exchanges. In spite of not having the authority, he
traded in options and maintained un-hedged positions. He acted beyond the scope
of his job, and was able to conceal his unauthorized derivatives trading activities.
Due to the senior management's carelessness and lack of knowledge of derivatives
trading, the bank landed up in a major financial mess.

When Barings finally went into receivership3 on February 27, 1995, it had an
outstanding notional futures position on Japanese equities and bonds of US$ 27 bn
(US$ 7 bn on Nikkei 225 equity contracts and US$ 20 bn on Japanese government
bond (JGB) and Euroyen contracts).4

Analysts said that the situation demanded that banks the world over must tighten
their internal control procedures.

Background Note
Barings was founded in 1762, by Francis Baring who set up a merchant banking
business in Mincing Lane in London, UK. The business grew rapidly during the period
1798 to 1814.
It became one of the most influential financial houses during the 1830s and 1840s.
The British government paid Barings commissions to raise money to finance wars
against the US and France during the mid 1800s.

During 1860-1890, Barings raised $500 mn for the US and Canadian governments
and was regarded as London's biggest 'American House.' Barings was also involved
in providing loans to Argentina during this period. In 1890, Barings was on the verge
of bankruptcy when Argentina defaulted on bond payments. However, the Bank of
England and several other major banks in London came forward to bail out the
bank.
This crisis had a major impact on Barings and led the bank to withdraw all its
business on the North American continent. Barings then took up the business of
providing consultancy to small firms and wealthy people, including the British royal
family.

Barings advised the royal family on the


management of their assets, and also
gave advice to small British firms on
investing in stocks and bonds. For the next
several decades, the bank grew well and
earned significant profits. In the 1980s, the
bank started operating in the US again. In
1984, Barings acquired the stock broking
arm of Henderson Crosthwaite,5 which
later became BSL.

Prior to its merger with the banking


business (Baring Brothers & Company) in
1993, BSL was run as a separate company
(Refer Exhibit I & II for Barings'
Organization Chart Pre- and Post-Merger).
Incorporated in September 1986, BFS held
a non-clearing membership6 of SIMEX. In
February 1992, BFS applied for clearing
membership7 of SIMEX...

Excerpts
Events Leading to the Fall
Soon after joining BSL, Leeson applied and got a transfer to Jakarta, Indonesia. Due
to his excellent performance, Barings management promoted Leeson to General
Manager of BFS in Singapore in April 1992.
In BFS, Leeson's job was to leverage on the arbitrage opportunities on similar equity
derivatives between SIMEX and the Osaka stock exchange (OSE). To take the
advantage of the arbitrage opportunity, Leeson had to adopt the following strategy -
if Leeson was long on the OSE, he had to be short twice the number of contracts on
SIMEX . The arbitrage trading strategy required Leeson to buy at a lower price on
one exchange and sell simultaneously at a higher price on the other, reversing the
trade when the price difference had narrowed or become zero. The market risk in
arbitrage was minimal because positions were always matched. Leeson was not
given any authority to trade in options or maintain any overnight un-hedged
positions.
Why Did it Happen?
Industry analysts felt that the fall of Barings served as a classic example of poor risk
management practices. The bank had completely failed to institute a proper
managerial, financial and operational control system.

Due to the lack of effective control and


supervision, Leeson got an opportunity to
conduct his unauthorized trading activities
and was able to reduce the likelihood of
their detection. Analysts felt that this
disaster happened for the following
reasons.

SEPERATION OF FRONT AND BACK


OFFICE DUTIES

The back office is responsible for recording


and settling trades transacted by the front
office, by accepting/releasing securities
and payments for trades, and reconciling
them with details sent by the bank's
counterparties and assessing the accuracy
of prices...

The End Result


The fall of Barings not only shocked the financial markets world over, it also
exposed their vulnerability. On February 26, 1995, Barings was declared insolvent
under the UK Insolvency Act, 1986.
Administrators were appointed to take control of the assets of the bank and its
subsidiaries. A week later, all the assets and liabilities of Barings Bank and its
subsidiaries (except BFS) were acquired by the Internationale Nederlanden Groep
NV (ING).
ING was looking to expand its investment banking business especially in Asia, where
Barings had an extensive business network involving merchant banking activities
such as investment banking, corporate banking, venture capital and capital markets
operations, together with securities trading and asset management. ING paid one
pound for Barings and took on the responsibility of paying the entire $1 bn debts
that Barings had accumulated.
Exhibits
Exhibit I: Barings Organization Prior to Merging of Banking and Securities Businesses
Exhibit II: Barings After the Merger of Banking and Securities Businesses
Exhibit III: Graphical Representation and Payoff Table of a Short Straddle Strategy