AIG’s Financial Crisis – Forget Business Ethics – We Need More Money!

October 8, 2008

$700 Billion for the banking bailout – $85 Billion for AIG (a private company) – these amounts are only a drop in the bucket of what it will truly cost before this financial fiasco is complete in the history books.  The sad thing is – in order to clean up the mess, the goverment will have to “borrow” money to correct – OVERBORROWING!

Now AIG says it needs more – almost $38 billion more!  Talking about missing a projection.  And the biggest question of all, where will it end?

Read the following according to CNN:

The New York Federal Reserve is lending up to $37.8 billion to American International Group to give the troubled insurer access to much-needed cash.

In exchange, AIG is giving the New York Fed investment-grade, fixed-income securities that it had previously lent out to other institutions for a fee. Those institutions are now returning these securities and want their money back.

The new program, announced Wednesday, is on top of the $85 billion the federal government agreed to lend to AIG last month to prevent the global company from collapsing. AIG said last Friday it had drawn down $61 billion.

To be sure none of us want to see a financial collaspe, but $38 billion on top of $85 billion – the question seems to be where will it end?  And what seems amazing is the magnitude of which the federal goverment is being the backbone of private “for profit” financial institutions.  Frankly put, if the issue were just you or I “Joe Citizen” and we were about to go under – we’d drown.  So why on the back of the taxpayers is the federal goverment backing institutions that have apparently thrown ethics to the wind when making financial desisions?

As a business ethics speaker, I am told daily that my phone should be ringing off the hook – “apparently Washington and Wall Street need your help.”  I can’t disagree with the sentiment, but they needed the help before they made poor business choices that have a clear unethical smell to them.

In a Forbes Article the following was stated:

AIG’s problems stemmed primarily from its insurance of mortgage-backed securities and other risky debt.

On Tuesday former top executives at AIG testified before the House Oversight Committee blaming everything but themselves for the company’s problems and subsequent bailout that cost taxpayers billions of dollars. (See “‘Wasn’t Us’ Former AIG Execs Say)

“Wasn’t us” my ass.  Sorry for the language, but if you’re an exec with a firm like AIG the buck stops with you.  Any person who runs a company has the power to make decisions that “should” be in the best interest of the shareholders.  With an equity decline of 95.4% – YES THAT IS 95.4% – who else to blame but the execs who set the course for the company.  Sure the market has changed, but it changed because “unethically” corporate executives have placed short term quarterly profits above common business sense.

My sense is – it will be a long cold financial winter that may practically last several seasons, if not years.  Your comments are always welcome!


FBI Mortgage Fraud Investigation – Too Little Too Late? Is This Smoke and Mirrors or the Real Thing?

September 24, 2008

For some time I have been writing and speaking about white collar crime, business ethics and the issue of mortgage fraud.  Then we have the issues that have surfaced over the past several weeks culminating with the President’s address tonight.  A major recession (I’d call it a depression) is facing us if we don’t do something now.

Now just may be too late.  Many individuals and firms have either gone under or become the target of a massive FBI investigation into mortgage fraud over the past several years.  But at the heart of this entire mess is the government and their failure to provide oversight and accountability.  It seemed that a robust economy balanced on the back of home ownership was more important than practical long term ethical decisions that fall on the backs of our elected officials.  (And for anyone who feels that I am leaning one way or the other politically – I feel there is plenty of blame for all elected officials).

Now we find in published reports that the FBI is expanding it’s investigation of major institutions whose names have been at the heart of the meltdown we are today witnessing.

According to CNN:

The FBI is investigating Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and AIG – and their executives – as part of a broad look into possible mortgage fraud, sources with knowledge of the investigation told CNN Tuesday.

Two officials with knowledge of the FBI investigation into the mortgage crisis said “the investigation is all very preliminary”. They said there is a lot of anger and people want someone held accountable.

Officials are looking into whether any criminal activity occurred, but the Bureau said the investigation will take some time. They said the investigation is in the preliminary stages, and so far it is a broad look at the companies involved.

“From what I’ve seen so far, I really don’t believe we’re going to find widespread fraud,” according to one of the officials. They said they have to go where evidence and facts lead. Just because an investigation has been opened doesn’t mean there will be charges.

Trust me – there will not be charges.  The FBI investigation (done by well meaning people) is just a political smoke screen so that those who want accountability will feel that something is being done.  Frankly, nothing substantive will be done to hold those most accountable for this financial failure responsible.

As reported in my prior blog entries, FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress that 1,400 individual real estate lenders, brokers and appraisers are now under investigation in addition to two dozen corporations.  What is of most interest is that the focus is on small time fish and a big sea of corruption.

Greenspan told Congress sometime in the recent past that something must be done with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae or we would face a meltdown and grave financial crisis.  His prediction has come true.  What’s sad is that our politicians from both sides of the isle did not have the fortitude to step up and do the right thing.  Rather, they buried their head in the sand and now find that they are drowning in a sea of financial misfortune.

ENRON’s leaders were held criminally liable for their financial misdeeds.  This collapse makes the ENRON mess pale in comparison.  Yet, since government backed Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are at the heart of the problem – both backing poor loans and selling them to the market – there will be nothing criminal to come from this.  The government doesn’t have the will or courage to regulate itself – nor the ethical wisdom to do what is right.

Cynical – well not really.  Practical – yes.  This $700 billion dollar plan will in the end cost $3 TRILLION…just wait and see.  Meanwhile, there is a long winter ahead and the chill we will feel won’t just be the weather.

QUESTION:  Do you believe the FBI will find anyone in any major institution recently names held criminally liable?


Financial Meltdown? Where Were Our Government Leader’s Ethics? Comments by Ethics Speaker Chuck Gallagher

September 23, 2008

The words are “urgent action” as uttered by those in financial leadership in our country.  Action needs to be taken in order to avoid a financial meltdown.  Somehow, I would suspect that words similar to that were uttered immediately before the Great Depression.  Have we learned nothing from past history?

According to CNN:

“You know, I share the outrage that people have,” said Paulson. “It’s embarrassing to look at this, and I think it’s embarrassing to the United States of America.”

“There is a lot of blame to go around – a lot of blame with big financial institutions that engaged in this irresponsible lending … blame to the people who made loans they shouldn’t have made, people who took out loans they shouldn’t have taken out,” said Paulson, who served as CEO of Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs for seven years before he became Treasury Secretary in 2006.

Now I’m confused.  Treasury Secretary Paulson is a smart man…otherwise he would not have lead Goldman Sachs and been named Treasury Secretary.  Yet, now we face one of the most significant financial crisis of our generation and times and at the heart of the issue are actions taken by aggressive financial institutions.

“Blame to the people who made loans they shouldn’t have…”  Secretary Paulson shame.  Blame to the people.  The people don’t have control over what loans are available and which loans are marketed to them.  I agree there should be blame, but to blame people who responded to sophisticated marketing campaigns that were promulgated by financial institutions who have huge profits to earn is absurd!

The “people” bought what you sold and only by the grace of the federal reserve is your former company – Goldman Sachs still in business.  The sad reality is – we are where we are due to misguided efforts and actions by those institutions (financial and government) who should have known better.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is reported to have said that the central bank would prefer that the government not have to take an active role in raising capital needed by financial firms. But he said there was no alternative given current market conditions.

“Action by the Congress is urgently required to stabilize the situation and avert what otherwise could be very serious consequences for our financial markets and for our economy,” Bernanke said.

Ethics are defined as the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation.  As an Ethics Speaker, I feel that those who lead have not only a moral duty but a supreme obligation to do what is good and in the best interest of those they serve.  At this moment the debate in Washington, DC directly relates to doing what is in the “good and best interest” of those they serve.  Sad that we had to arrive on the brink of a financial disaster in order for our leaders to take notice.

We can all make mistakes.  Leaders are not perfect.  But as I say in ever Ethics presentation I make – Every Choice Has A Consequence.  This is no different.  The self-serving profiteering choices of the past – loaning money to those who could not afford it and driving an economy on the back of those who are now blamed – is unethical and wrong.  I submit that had the same actions been made on a small scale – the government would have charged those involved with fraud and it would have been a “white collar crime” example.  But this is too big and now it is called a mistake with our top financial leaders and institutions being bailed out.

What do you think – Goldman, Merrill, Lehman, AIG, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae – the government’s oversight – ethical or unethical?

An interesting commentary by Ron Paul can be found here…you might want to take a look.


Massive Government Bail-Out … Good Business or Bad Ethics? Ethics Speaker Chuck Gallagher Comments…

September 19, 2008

Unless you are on an island somewhere disconnected from society…you are no doubt aware that we are in the midst of one of the most massive government bail outs in US history!  While I wasn’t around during the great depression – from everything we read what is taking place now is second only to that and, folks, that is amazing.  I was around during the massive savings and loan scandal and, like most who read, know that we are far from over with this one.  In fact, I don’t know of many institutions (Savings and Loans that is) who did survive.  

If the past is to be repeated, our financial climate or landscape will be dramatically different in several years.  Further, seldom does the government estimate a number that is right.  You can count on the cost being several times what is proposed today.  200 Billion will likely be a drop in the bucket when it is all said and done.  

For months I have been reporting on mortgage frauds and the number seems to keep increasing.  Clearly, the “greed is good” mentality went far beyond the crooks who are being prosecuted today and spread far and wide.  The net is being cast wide for this financial disaster and many will not survive.

The question, however, here is – should the government being doing what it is doing.  Many popular writers of financial books say – YES.  “What took them so long?”  Yet others claim that the government has no business getting involved in private business – especially when there are companies who perhaps engaged in unethical behavior – knowing full well that the products they were selling would result in financial disaster for many.  When you loan money to someone who cannot afford to make the payments you are committing a financial unethical act.  Sure there is short term profit, but at what cost?   

What’s your opinion:  (1)  Were the financial institutions unethical in their actions related to the sub-prime mortgage issue? (2)  Should the government have taken the actions that are now underway?  (3) Would it have been better to let the free market take it’s own corrective action and let the chips fall where they may?

Good business or bad ethics – what’s your call?


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