Kweku Adoboli was a hot topic just over a couple weeks ago when his interview with Financial Times’ Lindsay Fortado was released on the Thursday. For those who don’t know, Kweku was convicted of, in the simplest terms, causing a loss for UBS of $2.3bn as a result of his misrepresentative trading methods back in 2012. From listening to and reading the interview with him, I wanted to share a few thoughts I had:
1) Your motive, no matter how good, does not override the fact that something is right or wrong – “In fact, if you know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that, for you, is evil.” (James chapter 4 verse 17 MSG)
It was written in his interview that, “He still seems slow to believe that what he did was truly wrong or unknown to others at UBS, but remains convinced that he had been working to a higher imperative: to make his bosses as much money as possible and lessen the wider pressure on the bank’s traders.” I completely relate to this.
Sometimes we can validate our actions based on our intentions. I’ve often been in positions where it was much easier to tell a lie in order to keep someone happy or avoid an unnecessary argument or to enable me get my own way, for example, and that would seem like the “okay” thing to do. But one thing I’m reminded of by Kweku’s story is that it’s worth taking a step back to understand what domino-effect-like consequences can ensue from just a “little” action: “If I’m found out or if something goes wrong, what will this mean?”
A higher imperative is not an excuse for doing something wrong. While his methods were well known by others at UBS including his fellow traders, it doesn’t change the fact that they were illegal and posed a potential widespread negative impact. But it had worked for so long and so well, it would have made little sense to give it up when everything was going well, right?
2) Even your good traits can lead to your downfall – “All things are legitimate [permissible—and we are free to do anything we please], but not all things are helpful (expedient, profitable, and wholesome). All things are legitimate, but not all things are constructive [to character] and edifying [to spiritual life].” (1 Corinthians chapter 10 verse 23 AMPC)
It was highlighted at least a couple of times how community-oriented Kweku is as a person, with even one of his friends from university telling the interviewer how “He would take the weight of the student union on his shoulders, and he did the exact same thing at UBS,” he said. “I don’t know if there was something about the way the Quaker school was run, or if it was his Christian upbringing, but he always had that view of putting himself forward. He wanted to help, he wanted to do well and that, in the end, got him where he was into trouble.”
No doubt, this is an admirable trait in the self-centred world we live in today, a trait that I know I could do with imbibing for myself. And while there shouldn’t be a limit to how much we want to be of help to others, we must at least be careful to apply wisdom. Kweku’s reasons for doing what he did, I strongly believe, was mainly for the benefit of others. Some argue he was chasing a higher bonus but I believe he really thought he was going to make a difference in a good way for his employers because he was particularly proud of being associated with an organisation such as UBS and it makes sense that he would do all he could to ensure the best possible outcome for all involved.
All that aside, we need to know how much is too much and how far is too far. It’s not the easiest mindset to have especially when you view your career as an essential part of your life. I just think it’s worth having at the back of one’s mind that strengths can also be weaknesses under particular circumstances and we must know how to and when to rein those strengths in. But then again, I guess, it’s based on what the driving factor was in the first place.
3) Watch out for the real reasons people identify with you- “ But Jesus, for His part, did not entrust Himself to them, because He knew all people [and understood the superficiality and fickleness of human nature], and He did not need anyone to testify concerning man [and human nature], for He Himself knew what was in man [in their hearts—in the very core of their being].” (John chapter 2 verse 24 to 25 AMP)
Another extract from the interview: Adoboli believed that as one of the most approachable traders on the desk, colleagues naturally went to him for help. He recalled an instance when a senior manager came to him and said they’d forgotten to book a client trade two weeks earlier and were facing a $1.5m loss. “And he’s like, what can we do, is there anything you can do to fix it? OK, leave it with me, I’ll try to trade around it and make back some of the loss.” A former UBS colleague told me that Adoboli was the go-to guy on the trading floor when there was a screw-up. “We didn’t know how he did it, but we didn’t want to know,” the person said.
Whether Kweku realises or not, steps seemed to have been taken all along to make sure that he was the only one with hands found soiled should these trading methods come to light. It didn’t seem like people wanted to know how to do the fixing themselves maybe because they were watching their own backs or maybe because they were genuinely lazy.
But I always believe that when people identify with others for whatever reason, it’s usually because its of benefit to them and not because they necessarily think the person in question is the best of the best. I know this, because as your fellow human being, I have the same traits.
While it’s great to have a personal brand with your own intellectual property i.e. having a skill for something, just beware of those who will be out the door in a heartbeat as soon as you no longer have something to offer. It’s not that their necessarily bad people but it’s just that they are human beings: innately superficial and fickle.
4) You owe it to yourself to remain stable and sound – “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control].” (2 Timothy chapter 1 verse 7 AMP)
Fortado wrote: “There’s only so long you can go sleeping three broken hours a night,” Adoboli says. “I probably wouldn’t have ended up losing control in the way that I did . . . I would have recognised at a much earlier point that, OK, we’ve lost x amount at this point, OK, there’s still probably this much downside to go; let me think about it rationally, flip my positions back again . . . But I couldn’t do that; there was no energy left. And you end up going into autopilot when you’re that tired, and of course autopilot means that you make mistakes, you don’t recognise warning signs when they’re all around you, and it snowballs from there.”
While his methods worked for so long , and for the most part contributed to his bosses’ success, the one time it mattered the most was when he couldn’t think straight enough to work his magic.
We all have times of high pressure and what happens within us is a testament to what we have been doing to us. I know when I’ve got a lot on: I eat less, I sleep less and working out becomes a myth. Even though God has already given us a spirit of sound judgement and personal discipline, we can toss it aside by straining ourselves beyond our limit.
While such situations are rarely avoidable, unless you quit whatever it is that puts you in that spot, it can become a slippery slope. It is so key to recognise the “stop” signs and embrace the spirit God has put inside you in order for you take back control as you should.
I know in Kweku’s situation, it looked like he had no choice but we must admit that the stop signs often tend to come way before the mishap. We just don’t stop till it’s right in our face, and even then it is not us that stop – it stops us for us.
It was said that he had already planned to leave the trading world few weeks before the crisis happened . Perhaps he saw this meltdown coming at some point, perhaps he didn’t. If he did, I won’t be surprised if he wishes he jumped ship when he felt to.
5) Choose your inward witness over the popular opinion of others – “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John chapter 16 verse 13 ESV)
The defining moment was described thus: The crisis started around July 2011, when Adoboli took the opposite view to Hughes over the direction of the market. Adoboli thought a further sell-off was coming; the rest of his colleagues predicted a rebound. He flipped his position under pressure from the others. The market dropped. He flipped back to a short position and the market rose. Nothing was going right.
Now, from the little I know, Adoboli had a christian upbringing and was most likely “saved”. As a fellow Christian, I believe, his spirit was acquainted with the Holy Spirit to some degree and I believe it was the Holy Spirit that gave him the inclination to be on the opposing side of his colleagues who predicted a rebound. It’s no doubt a lot of pressure being the lone ranger in any situation so I don’t blame him for switching. Even more so, for the fact that a report had already been issued to customers in line with the predicted rebound.
In that situation, there can be no way of telling if you are right or wrong until hindsight gets involved which is often too late for any change. Had he maybe maintained his position, who knows if it might have been a whole different story today?
Trust your gut!
But yea, that’s all from me,