Nobody is truthful, not even in love

The Ashley Madison episode and an Asian man who exposed chinks in the UK stock market show that people who expose flaws are left to suffer

Sanjeev Gupta
Published: 31, Aug 2015

Sanjeev Gupta has lived and worked across the emerging markets of Africa, the Middle East and India over the last 24 years. During his career, he has developed extensive experience in the conceptualisation and execution of innovative and customised solutions for successful business models in emerging economies amidst the challenges of transformation and policy changes and the complexities of managing paradigm shifts. He has been actively involved in the Private Equity & Corporate Advisory sector and has established a strong reputation for strategic business development and implementation of hitherto untried models in new and fast changing markets. He was the CEO of South African financial services giant Sanlam Investment Management`s Emerging Markets Business till December 2010. Sanjeev is currently the Managing Partner of Emerging Opportunities Consulting , a firm he set up to focus on working with fast growing, consumer facing, family owned businesses looking for strategic and financial support . He is a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Chartered Accountants, a Member of the Investment Analysts Society of South Africa and holds an AMP from Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, UK. His hobbies include writing on business and macro-economic trends and playing golf. He enjoys presenting papers and is an active public speaker in various forums.

One of the most important question nobody is asking is, "Who polices the false promises?"
One of the most important question nobody is asking is, "Who polices the false promises?"

Image: Shutterstock

"Honesty pays, love protects and fairy tales are real"

Billy Joel sings in Honesty: "You can have all the love you need to live, but if you look for truthfulness, you might as well be blind."

Can this be true?

As in doing good, but not wishing good.

As in espousing, but not practising.

As in what is good for goose is not for the gander.

The world of corporates is indeed indicative of this symptom.

Corporate governance, transparency and compliance: Words that should underline the ultimate truthfulness.

Auditors, regulators, analysts, fund managers, professional staff, brand promise et al should make things add up all the time. So then why do so many things still go wrong?

There is currently a case going on in the UK against a hooded (no pun intended), jeans-clad, laidback, 24 year old Asian male who, from his parents’ modest home, traded away on the stock markets merrily to make money, lots of if, for himself.

Apparently in that pursuit, he also caused the biggest single-day crash in the history of the S&P. Single-handedly, of course, and with disdain I am told. And left in its wake a hitherto sleepy regulator bemused and looking for a scapegoat.

The crime? His only crime appears to have been able to crack the gaps of a revered stock exchange and made millions in exploiting that flaw.

What the powerful choose to now call fraud.

He was warned, many a time, for his trading patterns.

Wow!

It's like me wielding a gun and being repeatedly told not to shoot, but never was the gun taken away or told shooting was a crime after all.

Merely told not to do it.

Like the last time in school I ate some one else's tiffin. Our man didn't eat anyone's lunch though.

He traded and created opportunities between current and futures prices.

And he romped home and the wise men do not like being 'hood'-winked at all. They had warned him, didn't they?

Now the mighty US wants him extradited and possibly be tried for war crimes. Now that's respect. Even Mafia lords don't get so much attention so easily.

Why though?

The question begs.

Is it not a crime in the first place when one allows someone to perpetrate wrong and not stop him when it was already in evidence?

Anything less amounts to a tacit acceptance.

So he did what he did. And chuckled his way to the bank.

But he made all those very powerful people look very silly indeed.

That is where the crux lies.

Close on the heels of this indiscreet trading comes the news of a sorry saga of no discretion at all.

Ashley Madison promised, "Life is too short, have an affair".

Advertised, marketed and soon-to-be-listed in a global stock exchange. There you go.

The celebrated, albeit corny, issue of online mating and the delicate matter of love and "not" at first sight but at the touch of a button it seems; not putting too much emphasis on the word button in this context.

The hackers who broke into that "impregnable" system and have proceeded to now share the lurid details of the rich and famous and their infidelities are appropriately called the Impact group.

It's been a resounding impact.

We now know that more than two-thirds of the North American male population is feeling a sensation they didn't quite bargain for nor laid down their lives for. Even some suicides are on the way now I understand.

The law enforcement agencies have declared that it's a crime and the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

Really?

For what?

For being clever enough to see the lie in the promise of Ashley Madison, that their clients’ data was safe to start with and gullible, love-struck adults actually falling for it?

And then to top it, using their official mails and servers? And that includes senior government officials who the public trusts with their judgement and security.

I mean if the selling point of a service provider is "lie to your spouse and you will be never caught" and people agree, who is the real criminal here.

And then to add more solace by ensuring that the person you will cheat with (it takes two to tango remember) is also a fellow cheater.

Acts as a sort of a balm I presume to that prickly little conscience.

And lo behold, the brand promise of "take a lover" elevates one to a newer land of shared guilt, promises kept on broken vows (hmm) and love which is merely fleeting and physical, but gettable at the press of a mouse. And nobody smelled a rat?

The product promised was not a crime, merely disturbing.

But those who subscribed and were indiscreet to the point of naïveté must ask why a blind date had to go with blind faith as well and that too on someone else's untested promise of secrecy.

There should have been the fine print of warnings (Pharma companies and insurance policies know how this is done) to warn users that what is milk and honey could easily turn to be a bed (an unfortunate choice of words under the circumstances) of thorns and regrets.

A $100 theft makes one a thief.

A billion dollar loss or reputational loss is larceny.

But these are simply clever people exposing the frailties of systems and the security promise around it. A free service to mankind really; which should start making us scared about not machines behaving like men but men becoming machines instead.

I think it’ high time that it should be legally a crime to over-promise and under-deliver. Will make all businesses think a bit more and not take consumers for granted,

But to call it a crime when someone has deftly exposed and exploited a situation around false assurances is preposterous.

Who did they rob exactly?

I know I will be told off on this.

I will be reminded of ethics, respect, social contract... and that we are humans and must embrace these.

Really?

So that the corporate CEO who allowed his product promise to cause harm (read Bhopal and Union carbide), the bank CEO who oversaw billions being lost by innocents on Libor and forex manipulations (read major banks), the regulator (read US attorneys), who are happy to accept plea bargains and impose hefty fines can believe they actually are above the law, amends have been made and justice done by hanging some of the inconsequential players.

Who cares if the poor innocents have not been restituted?

And above all, the most important questions nobody is asking:

Who minds the minders?

Who polices the false promises?

Who pays the guy who actually suffered?

Instead, let's go after the fellow who showed us up.

How dare he? We are clever, educated and run institutions, businesses and governments.

Nobody should show us up.

We can make mistakes, we can promise deliverance and we can (yes we can conjure fake promises of safety, security and sanity.

The truth, as Mr Joel will no doubt agree, is that nobody is truthful after all. Even in love it would seem.

So hang the fellow who left us all hanging and in the case of Ashley Madison, made a few things hang out as well while that little Indian man wonders in his little cell whose future he actually did trade away if not his own.

Justice indeed.

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