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Timothy L. O'Brien

Is the WhatsApp Probe the Tip of a Trading Scandal?

Bad things are bound to happen when Wall Street flouts SEC regulations on communication.

This is a no-no for traders.

This is a no-no for traders.

Photographer: AFP/Getty Images

Gossip and inside information are worth a lot more on Wall Street than almost everywhere else. It can make people unimaginably rich. That’s why a sweeping federal investigation into banks’ use of private messaging applications such as WhatsApp is unnerving executives, managers and traders whose lips may have been a little too loose.

Sure, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s investigation may just be routine — a reminder that bankers and traders aren’t supposed to use unauthorized channels to exchange information with one another or clients. And sure, many legitimate privacy concerns are in play, too. Who wants nude selfies, bro talk at the bar or confidential client information in the hands of regulators?