by Martin Veitch

Silly bankers: Goldman Sachs shows email is always the smoking gun

Apr 27, 2010
IT Leadership

I suppose one fine day we’ll look back at the old days when all these people who got themselves into hot water by sending corporate emails that provided investigators, regulators, the media and others with a white-hot smoking gun of evidence. It’s just a shame that that day is unlikely to occur within my three-score-and-ten years on the planet.

So here we go again with Goldman Sachs’ Fabrice ‘Fabulous Fab’ Tourre conducting a romantic affair over the corporate system while referring blithely to “the entire system [being] about to crumble at any moment” and trades he created as a sort of “intellectual masturbation” made “without necessarily understanding all the implications of these monstrosities”. Other internal Goldman messages referring to “crap pools” and “shitty” deals.

Do they never learn? In the wake of the dotcom bust it was discovered that financial analysts placing ‘buy’ recommendations on stocks were privately slating those same companies. Love trysts are commonly laid bare through an audit trail in black and white bits and bytes that humiliates both the people involved and their employers. Meanwhile, content management and e-discovery software firms rub their hands and laugh all the way to the bank as they are called in to identify yet more evidence of possible wrongdoing.

However, it’s only going to get harder to cover your tracks. IM, presentations, conferencing systems, social networks and even voice conversations are now all liable to be called up as evidence but email is still the number-one source of evidence that you did A Bad Thing on the highly documented, easily discoverable company dollar. 

Most of us have used email as an everyday tool now for 15 years or more so why is this? Maybe companies have got lax over training on appropriate usage. Maybe they didn’t do that training in the first place. Maybe it’s the egomaniacs that are too big to listen. Who knows but it just keeps on happening.

I dare say that in banks across the City of London today there are discussions about learning from the Goldman case and the implications for email management. There will be instructions over when to use personal emails and on taking care with possible implications of phrases, as well as instructions that sensitive issues should be discussed face-to-face. But on past form, don’t go betting on any changes to stick for long.