Barings Bank: Wikis


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Barings Bank
Fate Collapsed
(Purchased for £1 by ING).
Successor ING Group
Founded 1762
Defunct February 26, 1995
Headquarters London
Key people Sir Francis Baring (founder),Nick Leeson
Industry Banking

Barings Bank (1762 to 1995) was the oldest merchant bank in London[1] until its collapse in 1995 after one of the bank's employees, Nick Leeson, lost £827 million ($1.3 billion) speculating—primarily—on futures contracts.




Barings Bank was founded in 1762 as the John and Francis Baring Company by Sir Francis Baring, with his older brother John as a mostly silent partner. They were sons of John (nee Johan) Baring, wool trader of Exeter, born in Bremen, Germany. The company was initially based in Mincing Lane[3]. Barings gradually diversified from wool into many other commodities, providing financial services necessary for the rapid growth of international trade. By 1790, Barings had greatly expanded its resources, both through Francis' efforts in London and by association with leading Amsterdam bankers Hope & Co. In 1793, the increased business necessitated a move to larger offices in Devonshire Square.

In 1800, John retired and the company was reorganized as Francis Baring and Co. Francis' new partners were his eldest son Thomas and son-in-law Charles Wall. Then, in 1802, Barings and Hope were called on to facilitate the largest land purchase in history - the Louisiana Purchase. This was accomplished despite the fact that Britain was at war with France and the sale had the effect of financing Napoleon's war effort. Technically, the United States did not purchase Louisiana from Napoleon, but from Barings and Hope. After a $3 million down payment in gold, the remainder of the purchase was made in U.S. bonds, which Napoleon sold to Barings at a discount of 87 1/2 per $100. Francis' younger brother Alexander, working for Hope & Co., made the arrangements in Paris with François Barbé-Marbois, Director of the Public Treasury. Alexander then sailed to the United States and back to pick up the bonds and deliver them to France.

In 1803, Francis began to withdraw from active management, bringing in Thomas' younger brothers Alexander and Henry to become partners in 1804. The new partnership was called Baring Brothers & Co., which it remained until 1890. The offspring of these three brothers became the future generations of Barings leadership. In 1806, the company relocated to 8 Bishopsgate, where they stayed for the remaining life of the company, undergoing several refurbishments[3], and finally putting up a new high-rise building in 1981.

A fall off in business and a lack of good leadership in 1820s caused Barings to cede its dominance in the City of London to the rival firm of N M Rothschild & Sons. Barings remained a powerful firm, however, and in the 1830s the skills of new American partner Joshua Bates began a turnaround. Its position in financing trade led to the bank becoming heavily involved in marketing American securities. With a marked decline in merchanting in 1850s and 1860s, commercial credit business provided the firm with its 'bread and butter' income. By the 1870s Barings was increasingly specialising in trading international securities, especially from the United States, Canada, and Argentina.

During the 1880s, under the leadership of Henry Baring's son Edward, later the 1st Baron Revelstoke, daring efforts in underwriting (the bank often purchased stock outright to sell later at a premium) got the firm into serious trouble through overexposure to Argentine and Uruguayan debt, and the bank had to be rescued by a consortium organized by the governor of the Bank of England, William Lidderdale, in the Panic of 1890. Although the rescue avoided what could have been a worldwide financial collapse, Barings never regained its dominant position. A limited liability company - Baring Brothers & Co., Ltd. - was formed, to which the viable business of the old partnership were transferred. The assets of the old house were taken over and liquidated to repay the rescue consortium, with guarantees provided by the Bank of England. Lord Revelstoke and several other partners lost their personal fortunes, which were pledged to support the bank.

Barings did not return to issuing on a substantial scale until 1900, concentrating on securities in the United States and Argentina. Its new, restrained manner made it a more appropriate representative of the British establishment, and the company established ties with King George V, beginning a close relationship with the British monarchy that would endure until Barings' collapse. (Diana, Princess of Wales, was the great granddaughter of one of the Barings family.) The descendants of the original five male branches of the Baring family were all elevated to the peerage, with the titles Baron Revelstoke, Earl of Northbrook, Baron Ashburton, Baron Howick of Glendale and Earl of Cromer. The company's restraint during this period would cost it its pre-eminence in the world of finance, but would later pay dividends when its refusal to take a chance on financing Germany's recovery from World War I saved it the painful losses experienced by other British banks at the onset of the Great Depression.


During the Second World War, the British government used Barings to liquidate assets in the United States and elsewhere to help finance the war effort. After the war, Barings was overtaken in size and influence by other banking houses, but remained an important player in the market, until 1995.[4]

1995 collapse

Despite surviving the Great Depression and both World Wars, Barings was brought down in 1995 due to unauthorized trading by its head derivatives trader in Singapore, Nick Leeson.

At the time of the massive trading loss, Leeson was supposed to be arbitraging, seeking to profit from differences in the prices of Nikkei 225 futures contracts listed on the Osaka Securities Exchange in Japan and the Singapore International Monetary Exchange. Such arbitrage involves buying futures contracts on one market and simultaneously selling them on another at higher price. Since everyone tries to take advantage of a price difference on a publicly traded futures contract, the margins on arbitrage trading are small or even wafer thin. Consequently, the volumes traded by arbitrageurs must be very large to gain any meaningful profit. However, in arbitrage, one is buying something at one market while selling the same goods in another market at about the same time. Consequently, almost all risks are hedged and the strategy is not very risky. Certainly it would not have bankrupted the bank. For example, one could buy a futures contract on Nikkei worth $100 million on one day but at the same time sell the same product in Singapore for say $100,001,000. Though a person would have bought and sold nearly 200 million, their profit is only $1,000, that is 1,000 dollars for a 100 million dollar investment. However, instead of hedging his positions, Leeson gambled on the future direction of the Japanese markets. If one uses the above example, one could buy $100 million worth of Nikkei futures contracts then hope that the contract price goes up in future. In this instance, even a percentage change of the price would create 1 million dollar worth of profit or loss.

According to Eddie George, Governor of the Bank of England, Leeson began doing this at the end of January 1995. Due to a series of internal and external events, his unhedged losses escalated rapidly.[5]

Internal auditing

Under Barings Futures Singapore's management structure through 1995, Leeson doubled as both the floor manager for Barings' trading on the Singapore International Monetary Exchange and head of settlement operations. In the latter role, he was charged with ensuring accurate accounting for the unit. The positions would normally have been held by two different employees. As trading floor manager, Leeson reported to the head of settlement operations, an office inside Barings Bank which he himself held, which short-circuited normal accounting and internal control/audit safeguards. In effect, Leeson was able to operate with no supervision from London.[6] After the collapse, several observers, including Leeson himself, placed much of the blame on the bank's own deficient internal auditing and risk management practices.

People at the London end of Barings were all so know-all that nobody dared ask a stupid question in case they looked silly in front of everyone else.
—Nick Leeson, Rogue Trader (1996)

Some people did raise eyebrows about Leeson's activities but were ignored.

Awaiting breakdown from my buddy Nick … (once they creatively allocate the numbers).
—Brenda Granger, Head of Futures and Options Settlements in London, January 1995 internal e-mail


Because of the absence of oversight, Leeson was able to make seemingly small gambles in the futures arbitrage market at Barings Futures Singapore and cover for his shortfalls by reporting losses as gains to Barings in London. Specifically, Leeson altered the branch's error account, subsequently known by its account number 88888 as the "five-eights account", to prevent the London office from receiving the standard daily reports on trading, price, and status. Leeson claims the losses started when one of his colleagues bought contracts when she should have sold them, costing Barings £20,000.

By December 1994, Leeson had cost Barings £200 million. He reported to British tax authorities a £102 million profit. If the company had uncovered his true financial dealings then, collapse might have been avoided as Barings still had £350 million of capital.[7]

Kobe earthquake

Using the hidden five-eights account, Leeson began to aggressively trade in futures and options on the Singapore International Monetary Exchange. His decisions routinely resulted in losses of substantial sums, but he used money entrusted to the bank by subsidiaries for use in their own accounts. He falsified trading records in the bank's computer systems, and used money intended for margin payments on other trading. As a result, he appeared to be making substantial profits. However, his luck ran out when the Kobe earthquake sent the Asian financial markets into a tailspin. Leeson bet on a rapid recovery by the Nikkei, which failed to materialize.[8]


On 23 February 1995, Leeson left Singapore to fly to Kuala Lumpur. Barings Bank auditors finally discovered the fraud around the same time that Barings' chairman, Peter Baring, received a confession note from Leeson. Leeson's activities had generated losses totalling £827 million (US$1.3 billion), twice the bank's available trading capital. The collapse cost another £100 million.[7] The Bank of England attempted a weekend bailout, but it was unsuccessful.[9] Employees around the world did not receive their bonuses. Barings was declared insolvent on 26 February 1995 and appointed administrators began managing the finances of Barings Group and its subsidiaries. The same day, the Board of Banking Supervision of the Bank of England launched an investigation led by Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer and their report was released on 18 July 1995. Lord Bruce of Donington, in the House of Lords' debate on the report, said:[10]

Even the provisional conclusions of the report are interesting. I should like to give them to the House so that we may be reminded what the supervisory body itself decided at the end of such investigation as it was able to make. It stated on page 250:

"Barings' collapse was due to the unauthorised and ultimately catastrophic activities of, it appears, one individual (Leeson) that went undetected as a consequence of a failure of management and other internal controls of the most basic kind".
The words I venture to emphasise to your Lordships are these:
"as a consequence of a failure of management and other internal controls of the most basic kind".
Noble Lords who have read through paragraph 14.2 of the report will be aware that it specifies these deficiencies. The report states:
"Management teams have a duty to understand fully the businesses they manage".
Really! They really have to understand the businesses! I would have thought that it was an elementary assumption to make that the controllers should understand the nature of the businesses they are trying to control. The next requirement is this:
"Responsibility for each business activity has to be clearly established and communicated".
Hooray for that! I wonder how businesses in this country manage in their generality to continue without that qualification. The third requirement is:
"Clear segregation of duties is fundamental to any effective control system".
Tut, tut! We are now treating the real elementum of the whole art and science of management, and it needs to be repeated here. The report continues:
"Relevant internal controls, including independent risk management, have to be established for all business activities".
Hooray for that! These are matters of plain, ordinary common sense. One does not need to be an accountant or a management consultant to be aware of that. Finally:
"Top management and the Audit Committee have to ensure that significant weaknesses, identified to them by internal audit or otherwise, are resolved quickly".
Well, well, well! These are all respects which this control body finds were absent from Barings. Do noble Lords really know what is being said? It is being said that Barings ought not to have been authorised bankers from the beginning, because any business — I do not care whether it is a whelk stall (one must not insult whelk stall owners in the context of this catastrophe) or what — knows that these are the basic conditions for the continuance of the business. It seems to me that the Bank of England ought never to have authorised this concern without verifying that all these conditions were in place.


ING, a Dutch bank, purchased Barings Bank in 1995 for the nominal sum of £1[8] and assumed all of Barings' liabilities, forming the subsidiary ING Barings. In 2001, ING sold the U.S.-based operations to ABN Amro for $275 million, and folded the rest of ING Barings into its European banking division.[11] This left only the asset management division, Baring Asset Management. In March 2005, BAM was then split and sold by ING to MassMutual (acquiring BAM’s investment management activities and the rights to use the Baring Asset Management name) and Northern Trust (acquiring BAM’s Financial Services Group).[12][13] Barings Bank therefore no longer has a separate corporate existence, although the Barings name still lives on as the MassMutual subsidiary, Baring Asset Management.

After learning of Barings' collapse (and realizing he was certain to be jailed for his actions), Leeson booked a flight to London where he intended to surrender to British police in hopes of serving prison time in the United Kingdom as opposed to Singapore. However, he was apprehended by German authorities when he landed in Frankfurt. Leeson spent the next several months in German custody unsuccessfully fighting extradition back to Singapore. British authorities declined to pursue extradition of Leeson back to England.

Leeson was eventually sentenced to six and a half years in prison in Singapore, but was released early in 1999 after being diagnosed with colon cancer. Despite grim forecasts at the time, he did not succumb to the disease.

Leeson's Trading Jacket

On 5 April 2007, the Guardian newspaper reported that KPMG, the Liquidators of Barings PLC had sold a trading jacket thought to have been worn by Nick Leeson while trading on SIMEX in Singapore. The jacket was offered for sale on eBay but it failed to reach its reserve price despite a highest bid of £16,100. It was subsequently sold for £21,000. [14] In October 2007 a similar jacket used by Leeson's team but not thought to have been worn by Leeson himself sold at auction for £4,000.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Reason, James (1997). Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents. Ashgate Publishing Limited. pp. 29. 
  2. ^ Ziegler, Philip (1988). The Sixth Great Power: Barings 1762–1929. London: Collins. ISBN 0-002-17508-8. 
  3. ^ a b D. Kinaston. The City of London, Volume I. London:Pimlico, 1994
  4. ^ "Barings Bank WW2". Wardsbookofdays. 
  5. ^ "A Fallen Star", The Economist 334 (7904): 19–21, March 4, 
  6. ^ "Case Study : Barings". Sungard Bancware Erisk. Retrieved 2007-11-18. 
  7. ^ a b "Implications of the Barings Collapse for Bank Supervisors" (pdf). Reserve Bank of Australia. 1995. Retrieved 2007-11-18. 
  8. ^ a b Howard Chua-Eoan (2007). "The Collapse of Barings Bank, 1995". TIME magazine. Retrieved 2007-11-18. 
  9. ^ Reason, James (1997). Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents. Ashgate Publishing Limited. pp. 28–34. 
  10. ^ Testimony of Lord Bruce of Donington : "Lords Hansard text for 21 Jul 1995". Retrieved 2007-11-27. 
  11. ^ Kapner, Suzanne (2001-01-31). "WORLD BUSINESS BRIEFING: EUROPE; MORE RESTRUCTURING BY ING GROUP". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-26. 
  12. ^ "ING Group agrees to sell Baring Asset Management". ING Group. 2004-11-22. Retrieved 2007-11-26. 
  13. ^ "ING ends link with Baring name". BBC News. 2004-11-22. Retrieved 2007-11-26. 
  14. ^
  15. ^

Further reading

  • Drummond, Helga (2007). The Dynamics of Organizational Collapse: The Case of Barings Bank. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-39961-6. 
  • Fay, Stephen (1997). The Collapse of Barings. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-04055-0. 
  • Leeson, Nicholas William; Edward Whitley (1996). Rogue Trader: How I Brought down Barings Bank and Shook the Financial World. Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-51856-5. 
  • Hunt, Luke; Karen Heinrich (1996). Barings Lost: Nick Leeson and the Collapse of Barings Plc.. Singapore: Butterworth-Heinemann Asia. ISBN 9-810-06802-6. 
  • Rawnsley, Judith H.; Nicholas William Leeson (1995). Total Risk: Nick Leeson and the Fall of Barings Bank. New York: Harper Business. ISBN 0-887-30781-7. 
  • Gapper, John; Nicholas Denton (1995). All that Glitters: The Fall of Barings. London: Hamish Hamilton. ISBN 0-241-13699-7. 
  • Ziegler, Philip (1988). The Sixth Great Power: Barings 1762–1929. London: Collins. ISBN 0-002-17508-8. 

External links

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