SPIEGEL: Monsieur Kerviel, in early October, a Paris court sentenced you to five years in prison, with two suspended, and ordered you to pay €4.9 billion ($6.7 billion) in restitution to Societe Generale, the French bank and trading house where you worked from 2000 to 2008. How did you react to the sentence?
Jerome Kerviel: I see it as a major injustice. It felt like someone had repeatedly whacked me over the head with a bludgeon — at first with the five years of imprisonment, and then with the multi-billion euro fine. And the bank has been cleared of all complicity.
SPIEGEL: Did the real magnitude of your trades really never draw the attention of your supervisors?
Kerviel: No, it did. Already in April 2007, they received an e-mail saying that I was making bogus trades with nonexistent counterparties on a massive scale. My bosses told me that I should take care of the problem. Over the course of 2007, they received many more e-mails on the same issue.
SPIEGEL: Describe what your typical day at the bank looked like.
Kerviel: I would get to the bank before 7 a.m. and oftentimes only leave it around 10 p.m. It was stress and adrenaline and a passion for the job that allowed me to make it though it all. Oftentimes, I wouldn’t even go outside to get something to eat.
SPIEGEL: How did you make it through it all? With drugs?
Kerviel: Never. For me, it was passion. At the time, I found this virtual life completely normal; the only thing I paid attention to was the ups and downs of securities on my computer. Whenever I did go out, it was only with my coworkers from the trading room.
SPIEGEL: Some traders say that their role model is Gordon Gekko, the financial shark played by Michael Douglas in the 1987 film “Wall Street.” Was that also the case with you?
Kerviel: Absolutely not. There are a number of quotes from the film that people are still fond of using in the trading room. For fun, I often think of Gordon Gekko’s piece of advice: “If you need a friend, get a dog.” Unfortunately, that speaks to my own experiences.
SPIEGEL: Can banks really control people like you?
Kerviel: Of course. But you have to want to. Having more controls and regulations goes against efforts to pursue consistently higher profits at a time when all banks want to maximize their return on equity.
Archive for November 23rd, 2010