Bankers' Bonuses
Whoops, I've done it again

Remember the line from the film Clueless when "Cher" Horowitz's dad, a top lawyer, congratulates her for persuading her tutors to change up the grades on her report? He says something like: "I couldn't be happier if these were your actual grades!"

A culture of cheating among graduate hopefuls on tests for investment banks has been exposed and smacks of a similar sort of cynicism, but without the honesty (unsurprisingly).

A bunch of investment banking graduates were caught cheating on a supposedly unchallenging maths test at JP Morgan's New York office and sent packing. The offenders, some of whom were from the UK, were made to pay their own way home from the Big Apple as additional penance, according to The Telegraph on 23 October.

The official line from JPM's press office was "this behaviour is entirely unacceptable and is not tolerated at our firm and so on..." However, someone inside the bank took a rather more realistic line: "These people must have cheated in a pretty stupid, clumsy way for them to get caught because otherwise I don't understand how they didn't get away with it."

The source said cheating on these internal tests is "pretty common practice", and that the grads must have been caught taking notes into the exam, or obviously copying work of their peers.

We should add that JPM is not the only bank to have detected cheating graduates on its tests; Goldman Sachs is also cited in the story.

JP Morgan Ashley Madison leak
JP Morgan's press office: 'This behaviour is entirely unacceptable and is not tolerated at our firm and so on...' Reuters

In fact it's a brilliantly understated piece of journalism – the unmissable inference here is that cheating isn't really wrong. Rather, it's going about it in a stupid or clumsy way that deserves censure.

And, of course, this attitude is ingrained in the cheerfully iniquitous culture of investment banking we all know and love. A good example was the recent Libor scandal. Remember the line from forex chatroom transcripts that blazed on headlines: "if you aint cheating, you aint trying."

In one exclusive chatroom known as "The Cartel", which included traders from Citigroup, JP Morgan, UBS, RBS and Barclays, a warning was allegedly issued to one trader "on trial" at the "fix": "Mess this up and sleep with one eye open at night."

The ultimate sanction for bankers is jail time but we know this rarely happens. More often than not, the offending individual is barred from working in banking and the bank incurs a fine. In the past four years, JP Morgan alone has paid out $28,902,150,000 in fines and settlements for fraudulent and illegal practices.

That looks like a lot of money, but it probably only hurts about as much as a grand does to a graduate for an unscheduled flight home from JFK.

And it would probably constitute zero net loss in the grand scheme of things if – by some unprecedented outbreak of honesty – the cheating graduates were welcomed in by their future employers with a knowing wink for possessing the sort of initiative and drive that could only come in handy going forward.