A True Prisoner’s Dilemma

Banks are no strangers to controversy – we only get a glimpse of their colossal levels of errors of judgement during times like the great financial crash of 2008.

Most big banks have a mandate (without your consent) to use funds deposited to trade and participate in complex and highly risky investments like stocks, currencies, futures and derivatives – but to what extent?

This also brings to the fore a potential issue of what is known as the principal-agent problem. Where the agents – bank employees, are given a ‘license to “ deal’ in all sorts of investments, often under the radar of both local and global financial authorities.

When one of such agents makes an overwhelming error in judgement, causing a large chunk of investment monies to be lost;  the agent is said to ‘go rogue’.  Questions arise as the agents often do not operate alone without supervision or consent from their seniors/managers.

A good example is that of a convicted bank fraudster; imprisoned and released on good behaviour, 38-year-old Kweku Adoboli who was eventually deported from Britain to Ghana.  A country he has lived in for 26 years in comparison to Ghana where had lived for a mere 4 years. This ends a long-protracted appeal process to allow him to remain and continue living in the UK after serving his sentence.

Some say he was a scapegoat for the deportation policies in the UK and argue that the colour of a person’s skin has no bearing on the immigration policy of Britain. This assumption holding some substance after what happened with the Windrush scandal

Others have also contended that he was the perfect scapegoat to throw in jail as a warning shot that the UK was willing to crack down on fraudulent bankers especially after the 2008 financial collapse which banks played a significant role in.

N26_banner-300x250-ENThis is also the reason why no top manager went to jail at UBS. Had Adoboli believed regulators did not know about money laundering and illegal trading in central London? The banks want to continue raking in profits and the last thing they wanted was a former insider with an appetite to take them on. These are the practices that have made them powerful. Adoboli failed to recognise that.  

“Adoboli did not syphon money to a private personal account, he did not pay himself a golden parachute, he did not launder money for terrorists or drug cartels, he did not manipulate interest rates and did not cause financial loss to the UK government. Other UK bankers who were never prosecuted however did.”

The word scapegoat is applicable because the banks that needed bailouts like RBS were savings banks, unlike UBS which was at least at that time, an investment bank. Adoboli did not syphon money for himself, he did, however, recklessly trade to make money for the Bank.

UBS is a bank which ordinary folks do not readily have access to. The very practices by Adoboli that lost the bank $2 billion led them to eventually record an overall profit of over $3 billion that same year. We, therefore, need to deprive our minds of the fact that Adoboli defrauded taxpayers of the UK and was a rogue agent of the bank.

He was, however, not alone in this practice and UK taxpayer bore no responsibility for the money that he lost. Therefore, in several ways, the own architect of his misfortune; either advertent or inadvertently.  

Let us, however, turn our attention to finance because this is what this post is about. And even before that, it is essential to get some perspective before jumping on to ‘lynch’ Adoboli. The Royal Bank of Scotland which manages cheque accounts of ordinary workers had to be given taxpayers money of £45,5 billion as a bailout.

It appears that the government will not get the money back according to the current chair of UBS, Sir Howard Davis. Interestingly enough, no one was arrested for causing financial loss to the state (that happened). UK taxpayers had to take a hit for this.

 Another interesting issue worth considering is the LIBOR scandal which was the manipulation of interbank lending rates by a host of global financial institutions. These banks, incidentally, including UBS by the way, have been implicated in manipulating interest rates for profit sharing. This was as far back as 2003 according to the counc39935_1200x628il of foreign relations. Again, no one was jailed for this ‘heist’. Before addressing Adoboli ’s case again, some large multinational banks were publicly known to launder money (for terrorists and drug cartels) guess who was convicted? That’s right, no one.

We do not refute that what he did constituted a crime –  it apparently was and perhaps he deserves the jail time he got. But the way he was plastered all over the newspapers in the UK in 2011 as some poster boy for out of control banking in the UK was why the term “scapegoat” was used.

  In investment banking, trading of commodities and currencies can go wrong which is why he should have insured his bets. But then, what no one is willing to talk about is the reward associated with high risk (uninsured) betting in the financial markets. That is the modus operandi of these banks; which does not make for sufficient juicy material for the corporate press. 

This is the height of the power of the big financial institutions and what they can get away with. Lose taxpayer’s money and there is no consequence. Fund terrorist or drug cartels and you will just be fined a fraction of your profits; fix international interest rates and all you receive is a fine. However, dare to lose their money through a risky bet and you will be undone just like Adoboli was.

Until the current financial framework is considerably changed to end monopolies of big financial institutions, the risky bets will continue. With blockchain and cryptocurrencies, who knows what the future hold? All the best to the “rogue trader” in his future endeavour nonetheless.

**This is a summarised section of a column by Julius Owusu-Paddy.  He is a staunch advocate for challenging social norms that elevate the powerful and suppresses the powerless. The full article can be read here. This section attempted to cover the issue of principal-agency problem and related issues in the financial industry.

One unanswered question is why investigators never scrutinised the practices of the entire UBS bank rather than just hauling two comparatively low-level managers to court (the afore-mentioned Kweku Adoboli and another Ron Greenidge). UBS did, however, make a profit that year despite the loss of $2 billion attributed to Adoboli.

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Anonymous Surfing

You don’t have to be an online arsonist, hacker or international cyber-terrorist to hide your online identity. Likewise, concealing your PC’s web address or (better known as) your Internet Protocol address (IP address), making it unknown to the public, does not necessarily mean you are up to no good online.

Debunqed.com will, therefore,  build a case for why it is important at times to conceal your private online location with the use of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks).

A VPN is a connection method used to add security and privacy to private and public networks, like Wi-Fi Hotspots and the Internet. They are most often used by corporations to protect sensitive data but now also by the man on the street for the very same necessity.

Getting back to the importance of your IP address: it is probably something you rarely think about but is very crucial to your online lifestyle even as an individual. How so? You might still ask.

Well, without an IP address, you wouldn’t be able to get the current weather, check the latest news or view at videos (streaming) online for instance.

VPN-Protect-you

Click here or on the image to view a quick video

The uses of VPNs

Your IP is also used for basically every online service you partake in including very private things such as your internet/mobile banking or online trading activity.  Think of it as your physical address and how important it is when getting things delivered by post or using it when you need to make applications for loans, jobs etc.

“Without a public IP address, online service providers like Netflix, BBC or Amazon wouldn’t know where to send the information you asked for. They wouldn’t be able to get it to your computer.”

One can now imagine how naked you must feel if you have nothing to protect this address from the advent of a hack without adequate data encryption.  Also the just the haggling by overzealous online marketers, spam, malware, and even 419 scammers!

Now the argument for whether using VPNs is illegal is highly debatable for some of the valid reasons highlighted above. It should, however, be a given right  to be able to use it. And even though it is commonly used by cyber-thugs to mask their clandestine and often dark activities, it should not be outlawed altogether.

The case for VPN

The legitimacy of VPNs debate therefore, carries on into a grey area.

avg-secure-vpn-featuredWe will, however, investigate a few VPN providers that are ‘paid for services’ and even offered by established companies such as AVG (which primarily offers Antivirus protection).

The directive is to help the everyday consumer surf the web without ‘virtual’ salespeople bombarding them with offers based on personal information gathered in an ‘unsolicited’ manner.

Policies like the European-based GDPR law were put in place to protect consumers from the non-consensus use of their data. Even your Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can track your online activities via your IP and sell your browsing habits.

Some forward-thinking people and companies, however, have long been shielding themselves manually using VPNs.

One direct benefit for you as a consumer is the ability to access content (information, products, and services) from different servers. A good VPN service can enable you to obtain access to other geo-locational content despite being on a different continent.

Take the example of Netflix: if you use a VPN in Europe it enables you to have international access to content from the US by using a US-based server for access.

It is perfectly legal provided you are paying for the service. The burden falls on the provider of the service and not the end user if it came down to a legal “scrap”.

If you need to do these tasks frequently, you need a VPN:

  • To hide your IP address (to enable anonymity from marketers and hackers)
  • Change your IP address (to avoid identity theft)
  • Encrypt data transfers (private and financial data)
  • Mask your location (to access other services)
  • Access blocked websites

250x250A word of caution for the last reason, i.e when navigating websites blocked by governments with a VPN: Unless you are a high-profile journalist working on a case and backed by good legal aid – it’s not a wise thing to do.

Do some research if you are not sure because accessing such sites (and not necessarily just government sites) could land you in some hot water. Rather use a known privacy service like Tor to ensure full anonymity to gain access to restricted sites if you really must.


Top Virtual Private Network Protocols

VPN protocols and available security features are numerous. The most common (best) protocols are:

ExpressVPNthe acclaimed best offshore VPN for privacy and unblocking.

IPVanish great for P2P and Torrenting.

VyprVPNthe best choice for those looking for security.

NordVPNsecurity is its middle name.

TunnelBeardubbed the easiest VPN to use.

Windscribea VPN which gives you unlimited connections.

Hotspot Shieldan awesome solution for online browsing.

KeepSolid VPN Unlimitedthe jack of all trades of VPNs.

CyberGhostrich clients and ease of reconfiguring.

ZenMateuser-friendly VPN that caters to the newbies to VPN.

PureVPNtake advantage of easy to use apps and access to many servers.

Source: www.itproportal.com, PureVpn

Picking a VPN service can be a daunting task as there are now literally hundreds of them to choose from. Landing the right one means striking the right balance between services, ease of use and pricing.

Some providers offer free VPN services while some like AVG charges for their VPN service. Paid VPN providers, however, are preferred to the free service providers as they offer robust gateways, proven security, additional free software, and unmatched speed.

The key is to find the best VPN that meets your immediate needs while matching your budget.

Criminal mindedness

One fundamental and often ignored view within economics is that humans have the propensity to display irrational behaviour in the decision-making processes.

Based on this notion, one can conclude that we have a fundamental tendency to act corruptly and be generally criminally-inclined except maybe the virtuous few.

How advanced our economy or society is, depends on what measures or incentives we enforce to deter or punish criminals.

In most cases, we find that in countries where punishment is severe (e.g. in Central Europe or Nigeria), the criminals end up moving to less strict countries.

The economics of crime, especially violent crime experienced in countries like South Africa and Brazil, is something that requires adept research if anything is to be done.

In the US, studies were conducted to access the impact of legalized abortion on the level of crime. This was discussed in detail in a best-selling book by Levitt and Dubner’s called Freakonomics.

The study found that legalizing abortion (seen by many as legalized killing equivalent to death sentences) reduces the level of drug abuse and subsequently other criminal activity.

The real problem

Perhaps there is no relevance here but for instance, abortion is legal in South Africa yet a high crime rate prevails. So, what’s the problem then?

Part of the problem lies in the fact that the incentives/benefits of committing crime far outweigh the “costs” and chances of being caught and convicted by the judiciary.

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John Nash through his renowned works (well at least amongst economists), devised what he called “game theory” or “the prisoner’s dilemma”.

Cheating occurs through degrees of severity from a classroom test or examination all the way to the plotting and execution of murder or indirectly killing individuals by selling users addictive drugs.

Then you have your white-collar crime such as insider trading, corporate espionage (unlawfully acquiring recipes, formulas, and technologies from rival companies).

Or simply ‘cooking the books’ or siphoning off profits from a company’s coffers.

Nash’s rationale for such cheating behaviour boils down to the attitude of: ‘if I don’t, someone else will, and leave me with the short end of the stick – so given the option, I’ll always cheat’.

His explanation is one ‘formally proven’ reason for human ‘irrational’ behaviour – or rather, could we say it is rational if the outcome is to favour the decision-maker in the short or long term? This is instinct is innate in human behaviour of not such a few.

Crime and law enforcement

Back to the subject of crime: higher than usual levels has often been blamed on the poverty caused by poor and exclusionary fiscal, social and monetary policies.

There are of course more layers and underlying factors unique to the history of political climate and resource allocation.

Further studies (such as that in the Freakonomics book) need to be carried out such as the potential effects of police presence in deterring crime in the diagram below:

Police officers per 100,000 population by regions and sub-regions (medians)

Crime deterrant

Source: www.unodc.org

Also, highly recommended if you are a law enforcer, economist, government official, or student, is a book entitled Economics of Crime by Erling Eide, Paul H Rubin & Joanna M Shepherd.

This book covers the theory of public enforcement including probability and severity, fines and imprisonment, repeat offenders, incentives of enforcers, enforcement costs and enforcement errors.

It might shed some light as to how criminally-inclined people can be dealt with once and for all. Because as we know – whatever government is doing to fight crime now is clearly not really working!

“When crimes are left alone long enough to fester, a second economy is borne.”

The proceeds from a ‘secondary’ economy because of criminal activity never benefit society. Even though people like Pablo Escobar were seen by locals (in his Colombian town) as philanthropists, their assistance came at a price. Such contributions which are naturally tax-free generally are referred to in economics as ‘social ills‘.

A third market is formed – one comprised of the need to feel secure.

Dealing with the scourge

But fighting fire with fire (with more guns & police who are sometimes corrupt themselves) will not alone solve the problem.

Criminals simply become more aggressive when met with a more confrontational approach as seen in South Africa. The Jeppestown (Johannesburg) shoot-out in 2006 for example, left several police officers and criminals dead.

It’s time to get ’smarter’ about crime and look to the accuracy and conclusive study of human behaviour and the use of incentives.

As crimes continue to ravage communities, cities and countries, we can question why government officials have relatives who own or have stakes in security companies.

It basically places less of an ‘incentive’ for officials to do much about crime.

So, conceivably, those with such vested interests in the third economy would need to be weeded out of the system for crime to be curbed.

That would be the first major step in order to bring about some rationality to society.