The man to clean up our banks

Sun, 23 Sep 2018 Source: Elizabeth Ohene

As I sat down late Monday night at my laptop to write, I was thinking that Kweku Adoboli had finally resigned himself to being put on the chartered flight to be deported to Accra on Tuesday.

Then the news came through that a reprieve had been announced and there would be a judicial review to the decision to deport him to Ghana.

In other words, the 38-year-old who became notorious as the rogue trader was not yet coming to Ghana.

Those who follow the news would remember that when Kwaku Adoboli, then aged 31, hit the news in 2011, there was a lot made of him being a Ghanaian even though he had left Ghana as a four-year-old and had been living in the UK since the age of 12 and had been head boy in one of the famous public schools (known to you and I as fancy, private, fee-paying school) in the UK.

Dubbed the biggest rogue trader in British history, Kwaku Adoboli was convicted in 2012 for losing $2.3bn of the Swiss bank UBS’s money.

His huge loss and nine-week trial captivated the City of London and his downfall, coming as it did at the height of widespread antipathy towards bankers following the financial crisis, sparked an unusually hefty dose of schadenfreude at the fate of the well-educated, privileged young man who cost his bank billions.

Since he was released from prison after serving half his sentence, he has been fighting the threat of deportation.

He does not want to be sent to Ghana and as he put it in one recent interview, being sent to Ghana would be a worse punishment than being sent to prison.

His lawyers say that his offence was not violent and he cannot re-offend as he no longer holds a banking licence.

He has been barred from working in the financial sector again by the Financial Conduct Authority but has been allowed to give talks at seminars to traders at compliance training and been teaching at several universities and working with an initiative promoting responsible leadership since his release from prison.

Adoboli says he has a debt to help clean up the industry and prevent others from going down the path he did by holding himself up as a cautionary tale.

In an article in the Financial Times newspaper, Adoboli was asked if he thought that what he did was wrong. He reportedly chuckled and said: “I was found guilty under criminal law, so according to the law I was wrong.

"The interviewer insisted, “But do you think what you did was wrong?” Adoboli nodded slowly and said: “I’ve said I’m sorry all the way along . . . I don’t want to cause pain to anyone. In fact, that’s the tragedy of all this.

The pain was the result of trying really hard not to cause the pain.”

Speaking about the threat of deportation, he said: “My father wants me to come home and rebuild my life but I tell him I want to stay here and fight to make something positive here.”

I have been thinking that if Kwaku Adoboli really wanted to make something positive out of his personal debacle and clean up the banking industry, the place to be is here in Ghana.


Here we are in the midst of the biggest banking clean up in our country.

Every day, the details emerge in drips and drabs. We haven’t got a Kwaku Adoboli poster boy to our banking story.

But our bankers and directors certainly seem to need lessons from Kwaku Adoboli.

He might consider being sent to Ghana worse than prison but if he wanted to do something worthwhile with his life, he might find that he is needed here far more than in the UK.

I do not pretend to understand what is happening in our banking sector.

The only way I know of trying to understand anything is to break down the words and I have been trying to do just that:-

The word that has fascinated me has been fail in its many varieties as in failing banks, failed banks, bank failures. So I have been looking at the word FAIL.

FAIL-SAFE adjective a fail-safe machine, piece of equipment etc which contains a system that makes the machine stop working if one of it fails. A fail-safe plan is certain to succeed.

You can fail and you can be failed

If a part of a machine or an organ in your body fails, it stops working. If your sight, memory, health etc is failing, it is gradually getting weaker and it is not good.

Never fail to do something, as in my mother never failed to phone on my birthday, so regular, it is expected.

Your courage, your nerve failed, if it fails you, you suddenly don’t have it when you need it. I left the hall because my courage suddenly failed me.

A failed actor, a failed writer, wanted to be an actor or a writer but was unsuccessful.

The first time I heard the word “failed” used in relation to an inanimate thing, I was puzzled and got increasingly fascinated by the concept.

I heard it from an engineer friend who, in referring to a newly constructed road, said parts of the road had failed.

The contractor was barely off the site and parts of this new road were already caving in and potholes were already developing.

My engineer friend in describing the phenomenon said the road had failed.

I asked to be educated on the use of the terminology as it was new to me.

I knew about me or someone failing exam, I knew about the teacher failing me, I couldn’t quite work out how the poor road would fail.

I could indeed understand someone, like the contractor failing in his duties and thus failing the road, but how the road would actually fail was beyond me.

My engineer friend said it was a technical term, you speak about a road failing when a newly constructed road develops faults long before it should.

I wasn’t persuaded but I was ready to learn and I went along with using the terminology until the Bank of Ghana decided to clean out some long-standing filth that might yet engulf us all.

Failing banks, like failing roads, are obviously “technical terms” and the terminology is deliberately employed to obfuscate what should be a straightforward matter.

The money that Kwaku Adoboli is said to have lost his employers is said to be about $2.25 billion, which is about the sum of how much the seven collapsed banks have cost the Ghanaian taxpayer. I am not suggesting the young man needs to do any more penance than he has already done.

I also acknowledge that he thinks being in Ghana is worse than being in prison, but I do feel the Ghana situation is tailor-made for him.

He is the man we need here to talk to our bankers.

Plus they don’t call him a failed trader, they call him a rogue trader and maybe we would start calling our banks by their real names, rogue banks?

Columnist: Elizabeth Ohene