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6 October 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 2:11am

The Gallic Gekko echo

Support for the former Société Générale trader Jérôme Kerviel reveals a regrettable attachment akin

By Rob Higson

It’s a funny old world.

Yesterday, the book was finally thrown at the rogue trader Jérôme Kerviel, who was convicted for his role in one of the biggest financial trading scandals in history that almost completely brought about the collapse of the French bank.

Kerviel’s fraudulent transactions, which lost the bank billions, landed him with a three-year prison sentence.

He has also been ordered to repay SocGen a total of €4.9bn, the amount that his unauthorised trading caused the bank to lose.

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Yet, strangely, Kerviel has become something of a hero for many.

He has written a popular-selling book and T-shirts adorning his face are doing brisk trade across France. Facebook fan pages have sprung up with thousands in support and even comic books narrating his “heroics” have appeared.

One wonders how long it will be until Kerviel begins glad-handing his way through the after-dinner speaking circuit.

Kerviel’s case forms part of the wider beatification of stock-market beastlies: Nick Leeson, John Rusnak and the recently resurgent fictional character Gordon Gekko, for example.

Together they comprise a sort of Rorschach test, which we impose our own leanings onto. But what is it that makes us romanticise such figures?

The narrative is a simple one: take one “flawed genius”, add a bucketload of hubris and fashion him into the anti-establishment crusader we want him to be, bringing the system down from the inside, etc.

And on it goes.

Kerviel’s Eichmann-like defence that there was nothing “rogue” about his actions whatsoever formed the basic thrust of his book L’engrenage: mémoires d’un Trader, published in May 2010.

Here, Kerviel protests that he was nothing but a minor cog within a wider-spread malaise that had seeped through Société Générale. He writes:

In this big banking orgy, traders have the right to the same consideration afforded to any low-level prostitute: a quick recognition that the day’s earnings were good.

Kerviel was no mere low-level chancer and most certainly not the Robin Hood figure some have painted him to be. We should stop lionising him as some sort of twinkle-eyed ruffian.

Gekko is often remembered for the misattributed quote that “Greed is good”.

This 33-year-old’s actions were anything but. They were reprehensible and caused untold damage to the bank’s depositors — real people — as well as the wider economy as a whole. It is worth bearing this in mind.


You can follow Rob Higson on Twitter.