Risk Latte - The Education of a Sinner

The Education of a Sinner

Rahul Bhattacharya
Mar 5, 2004

I am a sinner. I have lied to, and occasionally cheated on, relatives and friends, used condoms on deeply religious catholic women (of course, a very rare breed in this day and age) and even stole the equivalent of twenty US Dollars from my dad’s pocket when I was twelve. But I have always been a good sinner. Every time I sinned, I went and confessed to someone, and sometimes to the same friends against whom I sinned. But the funny thing is that my confessions only made my sins greater and I became a bigger and confirmed sinner. Every confession carried a bigger multiple. These days I just don’t bother with confessions.

This morning I came across an interesting story in the Financial Times newspaper. Apparently, there are allegations that Bank of America has grossly “lowered its standards” to win business from wealthy families around the world. It had engaged in questionable and outright illegal activities to please wealthy families and generate business from them. I am not going to go into the juicy details, but anyone can see the story on page 21. In other words, it is o.k. to lie, cheat or dupe if you are a large financial institution, or a Parmalat or a hedge fund controlled by the son of a billionaire. In fact, you will not only be rewarded immensely for it but also such behaviour would be endorsed by the society as well. At least that was the case until a year ago. Sinning at a corporate level is (or was) acceptable by all and carries its perks.

And here is the punch. “If you admit your wrongdoings and deal with them appropriately and aggressively” then that is a big positive and you will be redeemed and praised. So says, Thane Bublitz of Thrivent Financial for Lutherians (which manages $60 billion and owns Bank of America shares). Why didn’t I meet Thane before? I would be such a reformed man and my personal balance sheet would be so much better. Because it seems that a sure way to go to heaven after committing a sin is to settle with the regulator, like Mr Elliot Spitzer in the case of BofA and God Almighty in my case, pay off some angry stakeholders and apologize to them (in my case take the woman out for lunch and tell her it’s o.k. to use condoms) and you can start all over again. The trick is to blame it on someone else – the rouge employee, Andrew Fastow, my liberal parents, whoever doesn’t matter, as long as you’ve got body to dump in the sea. If only I had paid back my uncle a twentieth of a hundred dollars that I borrowed and told him my paycheck got delayed, rather than telling him I was broke to begin with and can’t pay him in any case for the next few years, I could’ve fleeced him for another few hundred dollars. You can’t be honest when you are screwing people. Accept your mistake but blame it on someone else and thou shalt sin forever.

Bank of America, it seems, is a better bank after all these scandals and has a stronger balance sheet. So I asked this question to my dear friend and colleague (who sits next to me in the office), who is also a Director of my company. It is o.k. to sin if you are an institution but if you are an individual then it is not o.k. He thinks I am stupid to pursue this line of reasoning; Good deeds and sins are judged by God. How can God judge a corporation? I think he has a point but I still quite unsettled by this philosophical conundrum. An institution, a corporation, is formed by a group of individuals and yet it lives by different sets of rules. Adultery is bad, but corporate adultery is good.

Anyway, one thing I know I should do is to file some papers with Mr Elliot Spitzer in Washington D.C. in the U.S. You see, I run this one and half year old start up in Hong Kong and most of my shareholders are quite dissatisfied with me. This afternoon I raised this point with my colleague and told him my plan. He couldn’t believe his ears. With a mixture of pain and incredulity in his voice he said. “This isn’t fucking America and we are not even a fart in the wind”. “We are not a fucking Enron or a WorldCom, buddy?” I answered back, “We could be one day!” Well, he took the day off after that conversation. So, what’s wrong in going to Elliot Spitzer? After all it is only being a good corporate Samaritan.

God is dead, Long live Elliot Spitzer!

© Rahul Bhattacharya
This column is written by Rahul Bhattacharya and reflects his own views about life and business. It does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of other members of Risk Latte Americas Inc., Hong Kong (“the Company”) and the Company accepts no responsibility for any factual errors contained in the column and strongly advises readers not to pay much attention to it.

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