“I Had Lost Half a Million Dollars in Slightly Less Than Half an Hour…”

“…and the coffee machine didn’t work. This was turning into a bad day.”

Companies seeking to create a culture of ethics, are concerned about bridging the gap from check-box compliance to a broader view of potential risks and threats. The bottom line is about psychology and the human factor.

Advisense's Hubert Roslund met with Michael Ridpath, renowned financial crime novelist, for a candid discussion, where Ridpath shares his reflections from his work as a bond trader and the start of his writing career. Continue reading to engage in a captivating conversation with the opportunity to receive a personal copy of an exciting financial crime novel, written by an author who knows the industry well.

Hubert, we know you are an avid reader, what prompted your selection of Michael Ridpath for this conversation? 

Hubert Roslund: It is true that I read a lot of books from all genres, but the reasons I specifically wanted to connect with Michael, are both for sentimental purposes – I started reading his financial thrillers when I, myself worked in the City of London – and, more importantly, for inspirational reasons.

I have seen many employees working with financial crime prevention struggle for inspiration. They find themselves submerged in rules, regulations and guidelines without always fully understanding why they are there. Michael’s books can provide that buzz, that feeling for the human aspect of financial crime that could inspire especially younger employees and new entrants in the field of fighting financial crime.

Is inspiration important for employees?

Hubert Roslund: Definitely. Obviously regulatory knowledge, thorough understanding of how financial flows work, analytical prowess, and disciplined structuring are crucial, but the human aspect is often overlooked. The buzz and the interest in the full range of psychological profiles you can encounter really helps to bring out that extra élan and make the workplace a much more efficient and, indeed, rewarding place.

Michael, could you tell us a bit about what you did in the City of London and how you ended up as an author?

Michael Ridpath: After University, I joined Saudi International Bank, a part-Saudi, part-American owned bank based in London. I started off my career as a credit analyst, then became a bond trader, managing one of the largest junk bond portfolios in Europe. In 1991 I left bond trading to join Apax Partners, a private equity firm.

My first novel, Free to Trade, was written during evenings and weekends over a four-year period. On the basis of “write what you know”, it was a novel about a bond trader, written mostly for my own pleasure.  Working in the City, I had come across some pretty dodgy characters.  It seemed to me there were good guys, there were bad guys, and there were plenty of shades of grey in the middle; the shades of grey interested me. To my great surprise – and delight – the book was accepted for publication with a large advance. It was translated into over 30 languages and reached No 2 in the UK bestseller list. So, I gave up working in the City to become a full-time writer.

Hubert Roslund: And the title of this article is actually the first lines in that very book, Free to Trade, which, incidentally, we will give away copies of to some of our readers…

Hubert Roslund: Tell us more about your key take-aways from your work as a bond trader and the characters you came across?

Michael Ridpath: On the surface, it seems like trading bonds is all about numbers and analyses, and those are definitely important.  But the longer I was immersed in the markets the more I became interested in the psychology of the participants.  Some of this was to do with the nebulous “market psychology”, ideas such as people buy on the rumour and sell on the news or, if the world is looking especially bleak the market will probably rally. 

But I also became very interested in the psychological make up of individuals.  In those salesmen who were compulsive liars, or just wanted to be loved or who figured out that once they had won the trust of their clients, sales would follow.  Or those traders who were intuitive, or who had ice-cold nerves, or thought they were brilliant when they were just lucky, or – worse – didn’t understand the risks they had been taking and could just as easily have lost as much money as they made.

Novels are a good way – perhaps the best way – to examine character.

Hubert Roslund: I agree – the psychological make up of individuals in the workplace is a fascinating topic and is often either ignored or analysed in an overly simplistic manner, for instance relying on clichés about behaviour based on gender or ethnicity. Having worked in very different roles covering both trading floors and back office, emerging and mature markets, it is increasingly evident to me that the individual variations are more significant and if you don’t at least try to address this – in the recruitment process, in the training process, in the design of incentives and monitoring – the organisation will not be very successful.

Regulation has evolved since you worked in the City, Michael, but what advice would you offer new analysts without sales or trading experience who are trying to spot irregularities and potential crime from within?

Michael Ridpath: Think about the psychology of the fraudster.  He or she almost certainly isn’t a cool, calculating criminal. He may have made some losses and is trying to cover them up. Or she may be someone who has earned praise or a big bonus for being creative and breaking convention and has lost sight of the difference between “doing things differently” and “doing things illegally” or, to put it another way, between “breaking with the way things have always been done” and “breaking the regulations”.

Also, follow the money. Clever traders can hide a lot, but if you follow the flows of cash and double-check the balances, you will see who ultimately benefits and who loses.

Photo of Michael Ridpath

Michael Ridpath – Well-known author, who started off his career as a credit analyst, but then became a bond trader, managing one of the largest junk bond portfolios in Europe. In 1991, he left bond trading to join Apax Partners, a private equity firm. Before becoming a writer, Michael Ridpath used to work as a bond trader in the City of London.

Eventually, he gave up working in the City to become a full-time writer. After writing several financial thrillers, which were published in over 30 languages, he began a crime series featuring the Icelandic detective Magnus Jonson. He has also written five stand-alone thrillers, the latest of which is titles The Diplomat’s Wife, published in February 2021.

Hubert Roslund – 24 years experience from both the Business and Risk Management side at sophisticated international financial institutions prior to joining FCG.

He has significant experience of leadership in high profile cross-jurisdictional projects and places great emphasis on building organisational resilience. His experience covers the entire value chain, from research and analysis to origination, portfolio management and problem debt management in Europe, Asia-Pacific and the US.

Some of his previous roles include those of Global Head of Strategic Portfolio Management at RBS Non-Core Division and Head of Russian Desk at Nordea.

And moving on to your career as a writer – what is your advice to aspiring authors?

Michael Ridpath: Every writer is different. But I think there are some lessons I have learned that would apply to most aspiring novelists.

Firstly, write for fun. It would be wrong to pretend that publication isn’t important; of course we all want to see our books in bookshops. But there is so much about the process of writing a book that is interesting, rewarding and just plain fun, which I believe is more important. I am convinced that it is the enjoyment of the writing process, rather than a desire for publication or an attempt to write what sells, that leads in the end to the creation of a good book.

Secondly, ask for, and take criticism. It is difficult to accept criticism of something as highly personal as a novel. It is very hard to separate criticism of the book from criticism of the writer. But you have to do it. It is the best way to learn.

Thirdly, write and rewrite. It took me several years to get my first book to the point where it was publishable. I believe it is impossible to write a good first novel in one draft with a few corrections, however brilliant you are; you learn through rewriting.

Finally, you have since moved on to write about other topics, including a series featuring an Icelandic detective. What gave you the inspiration to focus on Iceland as a scene for your books?

Michael Ridpath: After eight financial thrillers, I needed a change. I decided to write about a detective.  The many shelves of crime fiction in my local bookshop were encouraging in one way, but discouraging in another.  How could I make my detective different from the pack?

Because my novels had all been international, I decided he should come from an interesting, distinctive country.  Two popped into my head immediately, Saudi Arabia and Iceland.  Saudi Arabia because I had worked for a Saudi bank and knew the country well enough to know how little I knew about it.  And Iceland because I had been on an extraordinary book tour there when my first novel was published.  I was much impressed by the landscape (lava, no trees, fjords, metal houses), the folklore (yes, those pesky elves) and the people (friendliness behind stiff reserve, a wonderful sense of irony, an ability to hold down three jobs at once). 

I tried out Saudi Arabia and Iceland on various friends who liked to read detective stories. No one wanted to read about Saudi Arabia. Everyone wanted to read about Iceland. So, Iceland it was. And Magnus, my detective, was born.

Top-5 books read over the past year
(Michael Ridpath):
  1. Volcker Kutscher: Babylon Berlin
  2. Nick Biliton: American Kingpin
  3. Robert Harris: Act of Oblivion
  4. Egill Bjarnarson: How Iceland Changed the World
  5. Larry McMurtry: Lonesome Dove
Top-5 books read over the past year
(Hubert Roslund):
  1. Olivia Manning: The Balkan trilogy
  2. Leïla Slimani: Le pays des autres
  3. Arturo Pérez-Reverte: 
    Línea de fuego
  4. Michel Houellebecq: Sérotonine
  5. Ulf Kvensler: Sarek

Are you curious to dive into the pages of Michael Ridpath’s gripping thriller “Free to Trade”? We are excited to announce that you now have the opportunity to request a copy of the book* and immerse yourself into the life of a bond trader.

Please note that the offer is subject to specific terms and conditions*. Kindly submit your request here.

*This offer is available until 30th of September 2023, and may be subject to change or termination without prior notice. The offer is exclusively available for participants residing in Sweden. Due to a limited number of copies available, distribution will be on a first-come, first-served basis. The value of the book is estimated to SEK 240, and the winners will be responsible for covering any related tax obligations. FCG covers the shipping costs associated with delivering the book to the recipients within Sweden.

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Hubert Roslund

Director, Financial Services Risk & Finance

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