In the early 1980s, Nick Leeson landed a job as a clerk with royal bank Coutts, followed by a string of jobs with other banks, ending up with Barings, where he quickly made an impression and was promoted to the trading floor.
Before long, he was appointed manager of a new operation in futures markets on the Singapore Monetary Exchange (SIMEX) and was soon making millions for Barings by betting on the future direction of the Nikkei Index. His bosses back in London, who viewed with glee his large profits, trusted the whizkid. Leeson and his wife Lisa seemed to have everything: a salary of £50,000 with bonuses of up to £150,000, weekends in exotic places, a luxury apartment and frequent parties. Life was good.
Barings believed that it was not exposed to any losses because Leeson claimed that he was executing purchase orders on behalf of a client. What the company did not realise is that it was responsible for error account 88888 where Leeson hid his losses. This account had been set up to cover up a mistake made by an inexperienced team member, which led to a loss of £20,000. Leeson now used this account to cover his own mounting losses.
As the losses grew, Leeson requested extra funds to continue trading, hoping to extricate himself from the mess by more deals. Over three months he bought more than 20,000 futures contracts worth about $180,000 each in a vain attempt to move the market. Some three quarters of the $1.3 billion he lost Barrings resulted from these trades. When Barings executives discovered what had happened, they informed the Bank of England that Barings was effectively bust. In his wake Nick Leeson had wiped out the 233 year old Baring investment Bank, who proudly counted HM The Queen as a client. The $1.3 billion dollars of liabilities he had run up was more than the entire capital and reserves of the bank.
Eventually arrested in Frankfurt, Germany, Nick spent a few fraught months trying to escape extradition to Singapore. He failed and in December 1995 a court in Singapore sentenced him to six and a half years in prison. Lisa his wife got a job as an airhostess to be able to visit him regularly. At first, their marriage survived the strain of being apart, but she eventually divorced him. Within months, Leeson was diagnosed as suffering from cancer of the colon.
Released from prison in 1999, Leeson has proved his resilience and has been able to capitalise on his experiences. He was paid a substantial fee for the newspaper serialisation of his book in The Mail. The story was then turned into a film, Rogue Trader, starring Ewan McGregor. During 2001 he undertook a Psychology degree and Nick now spends much of his time presenting talks to companies on Risk Management and his life experiences.