Thursday, December 15, 2011

Jon Corzine and the Romance with Risk

By now, I’ve read dozens of articles about Jon Corzine and the fall of MF Global. But I think this piece in Dealbook is a best all-around explainer about Jon Corzine and his appetite for risk:
[Jon Corzine] pushed through a $6.3 billion bet on European debt — a wager big enough to wipe out the firm five times over if it went bad — despite concerns from other executives and board members. And it is now clear that he personally lobbied regulators and auditors about the strategy.
His obsession with trading was apparent to MF Global insiders over his 19-month tenure. Mr. Corzine compulsively traded for the firm on his BlackBerry during meetings, sometimes dashing out to check on the markets. And unusually for a chief executive, he became a core member of the group that traded using the firm’s money. His profits and losses appeared on a separate line in documents with his initials: JSC.
This seems like a surprise, however:
He was a popular manager, former employees say. An avuncular presence with a beard and sweater vest, he had a knack for remembering names. Even in the firm’s final hours, they recall that Mr. Corzine never lost his temper. His work ethic also impressed colleagues. He often started his day with a five-mile run, landing in the office by 6 a.m. and was regularly the last person to leave the office.
But the most mind-boggling revelation is that MF Global, through Jon Corzine’s insistence, shied away from implementing a rigorous risk management system at the firm:
Yet soon after joining MF Global, Mr. Corzine torpedoed an effort to build a new risk system, a much-needed overhaul, according to former employees. (A person familiar with Mr. Corzine’s thinking said that he saw the need to upgrade, but that the system being proposed was “unduly expensive” and was focused in part on things the firm didn’t trade.)
Risk management is perhaps the most important function for a bank/financial firm. There is no too steep a price to pay for having a system of checks and balances that would have caught MF Global’s downward spiral and perhaps have done something about it. I need not even mention the lost customer deposits that is now at the core of the investigation following MF Global’s bankruptcy.

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