Journal of Operational Risk

Operational risk: a forgotten case study

Patrick McConnell

  • In 2003, ten large Wall Street banks were fined a record sum of $1.48 billion for publishing misleading information to investors during the ’dot-com’ bubble.
  • Although, not recognised at the time, these fines were precursors to later fines and regulatory actions in a number of large operational risk loss events (ORLEs), such as misselling of mortgages and insurance and manipulation of benchmarks.
  • Using Turner’s methodology, these events are studied as a forgotten case study of ‘conflicts of interest’ and ‘conduct risk’ in the banking sector.

In 2002, a number of US financial regulators and agencies, led by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), imposed the largest fines up to that time on ten investment banks and broker/dealers for publishing misleading investor information. The fines and subsequent changes to these industry structures were named the Global Analysts Settlement (GAS), and the regulators’ remedies aimed to ensure that Chinese walls within investment banks were strictly enforced. This paper is a historical case study of the GAS scandal and the first to analyze it from the perspective of operational risk. In retrospect, the GAS case can be seen as an example of an operational risk loss event (ORLE) and, in particular, “conduct risk” (as it later became known). Subsequent events, such as the manipulation of the London interbank offered rate (Libor) and the mis-selling of mortgages and payment protection insurance (PPI), demonstrated that GAS was the precursor of much larger scandals. However, at the time of GAS, the thinking on operational risk management and capital was still being developed by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, and the implications of this particular scandal went largely unnoticed. Clearly, an opportunity to incorporate the lessons learned from the GAS case into wider thinking on operational risk was missed. Using Turner’s case study approach, this paper considers the GAS case from the perspective of operational risk, with a view to identifying the lessons to be learned from the scandal and then applied to future, large-scale operational risk events.

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