Kweku Adoboli: The Ghanaian responsible for the largest illegal stock trade loss in UK history

Nii Ntreh January 23, 2020
Kweku Adoboli was responsible for illegal trading that coast UBS about $2.3 billion. Photo Credit:

Kweku Adoboli would find this article’s headline problematic. It is his story after all – his truth – but the other thing is that he would prefer the conversation is moved towards his chance at redemption.

The cost of his fall from grace is historic, according to British annals and on a personal level, the 39-year-old regrets that his abilities have consequently been overshadowed by a history of dodgy ethics.

“I took responsibility because basically nobody else wanted to,” Adoboli said in a recent interview with Ghana’s state-owned newspaper, Daily Graphic.

He sat down with the paper to talk about his plans after the turbulence of the last decade that saw him spend some four years at HMP Verne, Dorset in the UK.

Adoboli had been a director at UBS, the colossal Swiss banking firm. At the height of success in 2010, he had been employed on a £110,000 ( about $145,000 in today’s US dollars) annual salary with another £250,000 (about $330,000) in promised bonuses.

The remuneration was massive and its effect was immediate. Adoboli reportedly moved from a shared flat in modest London Fields to a loft in Shoreditch where the rents are steep.

But the price at which UBS was buying Adoboli’s labors also reflected the trust and some mark of brilliance they had seen.

In 2002, he was a summer intern at the bank. In 2006, he was recruited as a graduate trainee.

At the end of the trainee program, Adoboli had wowed his supervisors with an analysis tool for calculating assets, and he was employed as a trading analyst.

The job as a trading analyst took not more than two years until Adoboli was at a trading desk. To move one from the role of assessing markets to the role of making bets in two years spells confidence.

Between 2008 and 2010, Adoboli was a director of an Exchange-traded Fund (ETF) desk at the bank. And in 2010, he was made a director at UBS.

All this while, his colleagues liked him because, as the Financial Times put it, Adoboli was “approachable”. There are even reports about how he personally took care of trading mistakes by colleagues who said they “didn’t want to know” how he did it.

Today, the ex-convict believes his superiors were also not oblivious to how he got things done. The cliché is true – what matters in places like UBS is the maximization of profit and minimization of loss.

Luck, however, evaporated when Adoboli’s ETF had to meet targets that took personal tolls on the four-member team.

These targets required 18-hour working days, less than four-hour sleep, avoiding your family and friends, very little time and space to take care of your body and mental health, etc.

In 2011, the target of some $900 million was increased by 50% by the middle of the year even while the team had only gotten $135 million.

Adoboli and the team realized it was unfeasible. No amount of trading would save them.

In the most in-depth interview he had after the UK government deported him to Ghana in 2018, Adoboli said when he confronted some of his superiors about the unrealistic targets, he was told not to “worry about it” because it’s been done before.

What he and his team did then was to bring back a procedure they called the Umbrella. The Umbrella was a process of stashing away some profits (it is undeclared), and then with that money, they fill the dents the daily trading losses cost them.

The Umbrella had worked before for Adoboli’s team at UBS but it was an illegal practice. This is one of the painful memories Adoboli has to contend with – as far as profits trickle in, superiors don’t question methods.

But the Umbrella did not work in 2011. Adoboli’s team made more bet losses than they could legally and illegally hedge.

It was a team’s loss and they were sinking deep but no one on that ETF wanted to take the fall. Not even as a collective.

After he took the fall, Adoboli was charged with abuse of position and false accounting. But the more significant aspect of his crime was that he had owned up to the biggest illegal trading loss, $2.3 billion, in UK history.

He served four of the seven-year sentence and fought in futility to remain in the UK after he was released. Despite living in the UK since 1991, Adoboli had never applied for citizenship.

The City of London described the crime as “the UK’s biggest fraud, committed by one of the most sophisticated fraudsters the City of London Police has ever come across”.

Adoboli disagrees to being called a sophisticated fraudster. But says he has done “much healing” now.

These days, he hopes investors can help him raise $6 million to start mortgage bonds in Ghana. He knows the biggest problem is finding the people who will trust him but he cannot wither away – his knowledge and talent must be utilized.

“I’m still at the beginning of a journey. The day when I deliver my first profit to someone, that will be a good day,” Adoboli told Daily Graphic.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: January 23, 2020


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