Case Detail

Case Summary

Scandal at Société Générale: Rogue Trader or Willing Accomplice?

Case Number: 5-313-505, Year Published: 2013

HBS Number: KEL766

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Key Concepts

Crisis Management, Reputation, Risk Management, Decision Making, Organizational Behavior

Abstract

This case covers the scandal that occurred in 2008 at Société Générale when one trader, Jérôme Kerviel, lost the prominent French bank nearly €5 billion through his unauthorized trading. The case describes Kerviel’s schemes as well as SocGen’s internal monitoring and reporting processes, organizational structures, and culture so that students reading the case can identify and discuss the shortcomings of the firm’s risk management practices. The case and epilogue also describe the French government’s and Finance Minister Christine Lagarde’s reactions to the scandal (e.g., imposition of a €4 million fine and increased regulations), prompting students to consider the role of government in overseeing that healthy risk management practices are followed in key industries (such as banking) that are highly entwined with entire economies. Finally, the case encourages students—during class discussion—to critically consider whether it is truly possible for one rogue trader to act alone, which elements in a work environment enable or even encourage risky behavior, and who should be held accountable when such scandals occur. Interestingly, this case highlights a story that is not unique. Prior to Kerviel’s transgressions were the similar scandals of Nick Leeson at Barings Bank and Toshihide Iguchi at Daiwa Bank, yet history has repeated itself. This case gives students a vivid example of the dangers of internal, self-inflicted risk on organizations, and it opens a discussion on how to avoid it.

Learning Objectives

After completing this case, students will be able to:

  • Identify shortcomings in a firm’s risk management practices (i.e., processes, systems, structures)
  • Evaluate the role and interests of governments as well as peer firms in overseeing healthy risk management practices in an industry
  • Understand the dangers of self-inflicted risk and consider the elements in an organization (e.g., leadership, compensation structure, incentives, recruiting) that impact its risk environment

Number of Pages: 8

Extended Case Information

Teaching Areas: Organizational Behavior

Teaching Note Available: Yes

Geographic: France

Industry: Banking, Financial

Organization Name: Societe Generale

Organization Size: Large

Year of Case: 2008