Breaking the Rules? Don't E-Mail About It

The Canary Wharf headquarters of Barclays Bank Photograph by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

E-mail leaves a trail. This is not new information. Yet somehow it clearly hasn’t sunk into the minds of some people who are doing things they don’t want other people to know about. The latest proof: the Libor scandal, that most unsexy investigation into whether banks manipulated a key benchmark used to set the interest rate on $350 trillion worth of car loans, mortgages, and other debt. (Need a refresher? Check out my colleague Brian Bremner’s primer from March.)

Yesterday, Barclays agreed to pay a record $451 million in fines to U.S. and British regulators and admitted it submitted false rates to the group that compiles Libor. Banks are supposed to submit rates that reflect their borrowing costs. By submitting a lower rate, a bank can make itself appear healthier. At times, a higher rate could boost the bank’s investments. To build their case against Barclays, the regulators quoted directly from e-mails and phone conversations among the bank’s loose-lipped traders and other bankers. Here are some choice exchanges in the settlement documents (PDF). Try not to wince.

How not to express thanks:

• “Dude. I owe you big time! Come over one day after work and I’m opening a bottle of Bollinger.” —A former Barclays trader now working at another bank. He was grateful that a Barclays colleague submitted a lower rate for him in October 2006.

• “when I retire and write a book about this business your name will be written in golden letters.” —A Barclays trader to a submitter who lowered the bank’s rate in March 2006.

How not to complain when you don’t get your way:

• “He’s like, I think this is where it should be. I’m like, dude, you’re killing us.” —A Barlcays trader complaining to his manager that Barclays wasn’t going to submit the low rate that he had “begged” for.

How not to collude with another bank:

• “duuuude … whats up with ur guys 34.5 3m fix … tell him to get it up!!” —A Barclays trader requesting a rate fix from another bank.

So you see, there’s a trail. But let’s just keep that secret between you and me. In the words of a Barclays trader, “really don’t tell ANYBODY.”

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