25 Million Pounds

Adam Curtis 1996 52:24

25 Million Pounds details the collapse of Barings Bank in the mid 1990s primarily by a broker called Nick Leeson, who lost £827 million ($1.3 billion) by speculating on futures contracts. The film contextualises the downfall as the history of Barings Bank was one of the oldest and most prestigious merchant banks in Britain, run by the same family for decades with extensive ties to Britain’s elites. But in the late 19th century Barings almost went bankrupt after investing heavily in South American bonds, including backing the construction of a sewer system in Buenos Aires. The bank was saved by The Bank of England, but Edward Baring, the head of the bank, was financially ruined and never recovered. This film explores the culture of Barings and of the financial markets during the 1990s, and how Nick Leeson was able to cause another huge loss of money to the bank, this time bankrupting the company. He did this by claiming fictitious profits on the Singapore International Monetary Exchange and using money requested from London as margin payments on fictitious trades to finance his loss-making positions. It’s also the profile of a stereotypical corporate psychopath, as Leeson himself explains how he was able to manipulate those around him to achieve his ends and rationalise his actions.