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Sexist and racist chats spike among home-bound traders

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City bosses have seen a spike in sexist, discriminatory and unlawful behaviour since thousands of finance workers started working from home due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

Surveillance companies that help banks, funds, private-equity and trading firms track employee behaviour, told Financial News that firms have seen a rise in misconduct amongst remote-working staff. 

The reports of misbehaviour come as regulators brace for more market abuse cases as the virus exposes gaps in systems suddenly tasked with tracking thousands of employees scattered throughout London. 

Behavioural analytics firm Behavox, which is backed by Softbank Vision Fund 2, said its clients saw an 18% increase in alerts generated by the platform to flag dodgy behaviour when their staff began homeworking in March compared to the month before.

“They could comfortably be sitting in their bedroom or in their home office and be chatting away with their colleagues without being noticed,” Behavox’s chief executive Erkin Adylov said.

“[This] is encouraging these cliques or these kind of buddy networks, where people are frivolously using sexist, racist and discriminatory language that wasn’t there before.”

The financial services industry – among the world’s most heavily regulated – has long used surveillance software to track employee phone calls, texts, trading activity and behaviour. Such technology is now taking on a new prominence as compliance workers battle to keep up with worker communication from afar.

SteelEye, a data analytics firm that has 55 clients in the finance sector, said firms using its surveillance software had seen a spike in “language that could be deemed as harassment” or “completely inappropriate for a professional environment”, according to its chief executive Matt Smith. 

SteelEye clients also saw a “massive increase” in alerts flagging possible insider dealing and market abuse in the first few weeks of the lockdown, said Smith.

The CEO of a third surveillance software provider, who spoke on the condition on anonymity, said that weeks into the crisis the “psychological impact of the Covid lockdown was now starting to take effect” and the “stresses of a prolonged period of homeworking could bring out the worst in people”. 

Firms like SteelEye and Behavox can’t access information within client surveillance systems, people with knowledge say, but clients can share examples of behaviour picked up by their software.

Mark Steward, the Financial Conduct Authority’s executive director of enforcement and market oversight, told Financial News in April that the regulator was bracing for an uptick in market abuse cases in the wake of the pandemic. 

The FCA said in a 27 May note that it was aware of a “surge in the number of surveillance alerts in a number of markets” in recent weeks. 

The note warned financial services firms to ensure they were maintaining “robust market surveillance” to catch out would-be miscreants in light of “changes in market conditions and the current use of alternative working arrangements” during the Covid-19 lockdown. 

Working under lockdown, SteelEye’s Smith said had increased “the ability for people to do nefarious things if they want to do nefarious things”.

He also warned that finance workers tracked by the firm’s systems have been frequently switching work communication to channels not tracked by their company surveillance systems. That’s “always a red flag” for compliance teams seeking out signs of wrongdoing, he said.   

The Behavox system had flagged an attempted intellectual property theft at one of its investment firm clients in early May, Adylov said. “A person was trying to steal proprietary data relating to a deal that was going on live … The [Behavox] system found out and caught this person in the act of trying to take proprietary information away from the client. And it escalated this to the compliance team, which then decided to act on it.”

Adylov added: “Typically these types of events are very rare, but what we’re seeing is that these rare events are becoming more frequent in the work from home environment.”

“I think … they [finance workers] are probably assuming that compliance teams are just asleep at the wheel or are probably firefighting somewhere else.”

Financial services firms may decide moving their staff back into the office is the only way to stamp out misbehaviour, other experts have warned. 

Paul Tombleson, a partner in KPMG’s forensics team and head of its trader surveillance practice, said most banks will want to move traders back to a “secure physical environment relatively quickly”. 

“It’s very difficult to replicate the controlled environment you have in place on a trading floor from home,” he said. “When you take a trader out of the trading floor, and you put them in their home … there is nothing you can do to put a hard control in place.” 

“You can’t have a supervisor sitting next to them.”

To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email Lucy McNulty

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Australian Finance Minister Cormann to resign at end of year

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, one of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s most senior Cabinet members, says he is retiring from politics at the end of the year.

Belgium-born Cormann, who has been finance minister since 2013, entered federal politics in 2007 and became the leader of the government in the Senate, the upper house of Parliament, in 2017.

His decision to remove his support for former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and instead support Peter Dutton was seen as a major reason for the 2018 change that led to Morrison becoming the country’s leader.

“Having decided not to re-contest the next election, I can confirm that I have advised the prime minister that the end of this year would be an appropriate time for an orderly transition in my portfolio,” Cormann said in a statement Sunday.

Cormann said he would spend the next six months working with Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on finalizing the July economic statement, the budget in October and the half-yearly budget update in December.

The budget is usually delivered in May, but has been delayed until October because of the coronavirus.

Cormann, 49, decided to migrate to Australia permanently from Belgium after visiting Perth, Western Australia, in 1994.

The Associated Press



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Eat out to help economy, finance chief tells Britons – News

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak says shutdowns have been very painful for hospitality sector

Britain’s finance minister urged people on Saturday to “eat out to help out” the economy claw its way from a historic decline sparked by the coronavirus crisis.

The comments by Chancellor Rishi Sunak were published on the day England finally reopened its beloved pubs and the rest of the hospitality sector after more than three months of lockdown.

Britain’s shutdown has been one of Europe’s longest because of an official toll – 44,131 – that only trails those of the United States and Brazil.

Sunak said the closures have been especially painful for Britain because consumption makes up about two-third of its gross domestic product.

“That’s more than most of our peers,” he told The Times newspaper.

“So we’ve got a situation like this, with social distancing we’re obviously going to be particularly impacted by that.”

Sunak said he “worried about a generation that is scarred by coronavirus” – especially younger people who see the hospitality sector as their way into the job market.

“For me this is really about social justice,” he said.

“People act responsibly, but ultimately if we eat out to help out we can protect those jobs. It’s not abstract.”

The true scale of Britain’s unemployment problem will only be revealed once the government starts winding down its jobs furlough scheme in August.

The state currently supports 80 per cent of most people’s wages. But jobless claims still surged 126 percent to 2.8 million in the three months to May.

Sunak will make an economic statement to parliament next week that will be watched closely for signs of how much support the government intends to give businesses in the future.

The government is running up debts but interests rates are low and borrowing costs remain at a historic low.

The Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane created waves this week by predicting a “V-shaped” recovery that will see old levels of performance return soon.

Sunak was less certain.

“We all want Andy to be right,” he said.

“But we have got to be realistic as well. You can’t shut down your economy in the way that we have for this many months without there being hardship as a result.”



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Trump’s niece says 2001 NDA based on ‘fraudulent’ financial information | US news

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Lawyers for Donald Trump’s niece seeking to clear her path to publish a book about the family have cited “bombshell” New York Times reporting on the Trumps’ tax affairs as proof a non-disclosure agreement signed in 2001 was based on “demonstrably fraudulent” financial information and should be held invalid.

Attorneys for Mary Trump made the argument in filings in New York state supreme court in Dutchess county this week.

Simon & Schuster is set to publish Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man on 28 July. The president’s brother, Robert Trump, is seeking to block it, citing the NDA which was signed after litigation over a family will.

Earlier this week, a judge in New York granted a temporary restraining order against Mary Trump and the publisher. But in a sign that the book is likely to come out regardless, Simon & Schuster was released from the order, after saying it had printed 75,000 copies and started to ship them to sellers, and had been unaware of the NDA.

Simon & Schuster also published The Room Where It Happened, former national security adviser John Bolton’s tell-all memoir which a federal judge declined to block. It sold nearly 800,000 copies in its first week in stores.

In a statement, Simon & Schuster echoed lawyers for Mary Trump when it cited first amendment guarantees of free speech and said the book was of “great interest and importance to the national discourse that fully deserves to be published for the benefit of the American public”.

It added: “As all know, there are well-established precedents against prior restraint and pre-publication injunctions, and we remain confident that the preliminary injunction will be denied.”

A hearing is scheduled for 10 July.

Mary Trump is the daughter of the president’s elder brother, Fred Trump, who died in 1981. She has rarely spoken publicly but she has expressed dismay over her uncle’s political career on social media.

In publicity material, Simon & Schuster says the trained clinical psychologist will offer both a “revelatory, authoritative portrait of Donald J Trump and the toxic family that made him” and “a nightmare of traumas, destructive relationships … neglect and abuse”.

Mary Trump was reportedly a key source for the Times reporting on the Trump family’s taxes, which won a Pulitzer prize.

In an affidavit filed on Thursday, she said: “The New York Times’s detailed analysis and investigation revealed for the first time that the valuations on which I had relied in entering into the settlement agreement, and which were used to determine my compensation under the agreement, were fraudulent.

“I relied on the false valuations provided to me by my uncles and aunt, and would never have entered into the agreement had I known the true value of the assets involved.”

Donald Trump’s surviving siblings are Robert Trump, a businessman; Maryanne Trump Barry, a retired judge; and Elizabeth Trump Grau, a retired banker.

“I never believed that the settlement agreement resolving discrete financial disputes could possibly restrict me from telling the story of my life or publishing a book,” Mary Trump said, “… including the conduct and character of my uncle, the sitting president of the United States, during his campaign for re-election, my aunt Maryanne, a former federal judge, or my uncle Robert, a prominent public figure.

“Moreover, my uncle, the president, has spoken out about our family and the will dispute on numerous occasions.”

Mary Trump’s lawyers also cited the president’s hunger for media coverage.

“President Trump himself has contributed to his and his family’s notoriety in a variety of ways,” they wrote, “including as the author of nearly 20 books on a variety of topics, including his family, his wealth, his businesses and his own life.

“Among the most notable of all the media coverage of the Trump family is a bombshell investigative piece published in the New York Times on 2 October 2018, describing schemes Donald Trump and his father employed to transfer nearly a half a billion dollars to Donald Trump, Robert Trump and Maryanne Trump Barry, while systematically evading their tax obligations.”

Robert Trump, the lawyers wrote, “is concerned that [Mary] Trump will reveal details about her dealings with the New York Times, her difficult relationship with her family, and the Trump family’s financial dealings. But all of those facts have been made public.

“Contemporaneous news reports surrounding [Mary] Trump’s suit 20 years ago laid bare the rancorous relationship between the Trump family and [Mary] Trump.”

Robert Trump is represented by Charles Harder, a lawyer who has worked extensively for the president.

Responding to the temporary restraining order against Mary Trump, Harder said he would seek the “maximum remedies available” for what he called her “truly reprehensible” actions.

“Short of corrective action to immediately cease their egregious conduct,” he added, “we will pursue this case to the very end.”

Harder has called the New York Times’ reporting on Trump family tax affairs “100% false, and highly defamatory” and said: “There was no fraud or tax evasion by anyone.”

Breaking with precedent, Donald Trump did not release his tax records while running for office. He has not released them since, despite promising to do so.

The president’s financial records have become the subject of legal tussles between the White House, Democrats in Congress and prosecutors in New York. A supreme court ruling on whether they should be released is eagerly awaited.

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