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The failure of broker MF Global is a unique event in the annals of American corporate history: To my knowledge, it’s the first time a CEO singlehandedly bankrupted his firm through actions that the board of directors was not only knowledgeable of, but had indeed expressly sanctioned. “That takes some talent!” quipped Roderick Hills, a former chairman of the SEC.
The article is long, detailed, and thorough. It describes a deep corruption that should chill the spine of anyone who has money in the investment world.
I must note that I do not advocate more regulations to eliminate this corruption. Such regulations never work. Take for example this quote from the article, describing the accounting systems that are required by law to prevent a client’s funds from being misused:
As noted above, it’s a major part of the CEO’s job to put the proper systems in place. In fact, regulations implemented through Sarbanes-Oxley — a bill that Corzine co-wrote while he was a senator — require that the CEO and CFO sign off on the effectiveness of the controls over financial reporting. … If those proper “controls and procedures” were in place, a breach of segregated client funds should have set off loud, blaring, obnoxious alarms that would have alerted management to that breach.
In the case of Jon Corzine and MF Global, those controls were obviously not in place, and thus the Sarbanes-Oxley bill wasn’t worth the paper that Corzine used to write the bill.
Rather than more regulations, what works is very simple and can be summed by two words: “Buyer beware.” Investors (as well as voters considering the political ambitions of Corzine and his friends) have to be more skeptical of whom they put their trust in. You have to protect yourself. You can’t ask others to do it for you.