But what the bankers were allegedly doing was as serious as it gets: fixing an interest rate that affects the cost of half a quadrillion dollars thats $554 trillion in financial contracts around the world, from mortgages to loans.
US and British investigators say the employees of Barclays Bank and possibly those of other major international banks clearly knew it was wrong to manipulate the London interbank office rate, known as the Libor, which determines the rate at which banks lend to each other and, by extension, the rate at which they lend to consumers and businesses.
The rate is calculated daily by the British Bankers Association, based on lending rate figures submitted by global banks. Some of Barclays staff, however, allegedly succumbed to the temptation to adjust the figures in a bid to boost profits or disguise financial weaknesses.
One trader messaged a colleague about helping to influence the three-month Libor. As always, any help wd be greatly appreciated, the trader wrote. I am going 90 altho 91 is what I should be posting, came the reply.
The trader responded: When I retire and write a book about this business your name will be written in golden letters.
I would prefer this not be in any book! came the reply.
And yet it did appear not in a book, but in court papers that led to fines totalling $453 million against the bank. Officials are considering criminal charges against individuals and British investigators are probing major banks, including Citigroup in the United States, Switzerlands UBS, Britains HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland.
British treasury chief George Osborne said the messages cited by the Financial Services Authority read like an epitaph to an age of irresponsibility.
These contracts may sound exotic, but they are the bread and butter of our financial system and are used by businesses and public authorities every day, and they affect the mortgage payments and loan rates of millions of families and hundreds of thousands of firms, large and small, Osborne said.