Nicholas "Nick" Leeson (born 25 February 1967) is a former derivatives broker whose fraudulent, unauthorized speculative trading caused the collapse of Barings Bank, the United Kingdom's oldest investment bank, for which he was sent to prison.
From 1992, Leeson made unauthorized speculative trades that at first made large profits for Barings; £10 million which accounted for 10% of Barings' annual income. He earned a bonus of £130,000 on his salary of £50,000 for that year.
However, his luck soon went sour, and he used one of Barings' error accounts (accounts used to correct mistakes made in trading) to hide his losses. The account was numbered 88888 – 8 being a number considered to be very lucky in Chinese numerology. Leeson claims that this account was first used to hide an error made by one of his colleagues; rather than buy 20 contracts as the customer had ordered, she had sold them, costing Barings £20,000.
However, Leeson used this account to cover further bad trades. He insists that he never used the account for his own gain
By the end of 1992, the account's losses exceeded £2 million, which ballooned to £208 million by the end of 1994.
There were clues in Leeson's lifestyle off the trading floor that he was headed for trouble. In October 1994, he was arrested by Singapore police and spent a night in a jail after an incident in which he exposed his buttocks in public to two women. His superiors at Barings persuaded The International Financing Review to re-write a planned reference to the incident in its gossip column to cover it up.
The beginning of the end occurred on 16 January 1995, when Leeson placed a short straddle in the Singapore and Tokyo stock exchanges, essentially betting that the Japanese stock market would not move significantly overnight. However, the Kobe earthquake hit early in the morning on 17 January, sending Asian markets, and Leeson's trading positions, into a tailspin. Leeson attempted to recoup his losses by making a series of increasingly risky new trades (using a Long-Long Future Arbitrage), this time betting that the Nikkei Stock Average would make a rapid recovery. However, the recovery failed to materialize.
Leeson left a note reading "I'm Sorry" and fled Singapore on 23 February. Losses eventually reached £827 million (US$1.4 billion), twice the bank's available trading capital. After a failed bailout attempt, Barings was declared insolvent on 26 February.
After fleeing to Malaysia, Thailand, and finally Germany, Leeson was arrested and extradited back to Singapore on 20 November 1995, though his wife Lisa was allowed to return to England. While he had authorisation for the 16 January short straddle, he was charged with fraud for deceiving his superiors about the riskiness of his activities and the scale of his losses. Several observers (and Leeson himself) have placed much of the blame on the bank's own deficient internal auditing and risk management practices. Indeed, the Singapore authorities' report on the collapse was scathingly critical of Barings management, claiming that senior officials knew or should have known about the "five eights" account.