Two traders sacked by ANZ Banking Group for inappropriate behaviour are suing the bank for tens of millions of dollars, claiming a rampant culture of sex, drugs and alcohol was condoned among senior staff on the dealing floor.
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Sacked ANZ traders say bank tolerated drugs, strip clubs
Two traders sacked by ANZ for inappropriate behaviour are suing the bank for tens of millions of dollars, claiming a rampant culture of sex, drugs and alcohol was condoned among senior staff on the dealing floor.
"What a waste, it should have been sprinkled on a birthday cake," a senior ANZ markets trader said after a "white substance" was found in the male toilet of the bank's dealing room floor, according to court documents filed by Etienne Alexiou.
This is one of several instances cited by the sacked trader in his $30 million claim to demonstrate a toxic culture within the senior ranks of the Global Markets division, including inebriated senior traders damaging property at a Hunter Valley retreat.
In a potentially more serious claim, Mr Alexiou said he formally raised concerns about the conduct of the bank towards investors and clients on three separate occasions, according to his court statement. One instance included a potential breach of the Corporations Act.
Mr Alexiou, who Fairfax Media named in January last year as one of seven traders stood down by the bank in November 2014 as a result of a regulatory probe into setting on the bank bill swap rate, was sacked for lewd and explicit communications via Bloomberg terminals.
Culture not a match for standards required
The culture on the dealing floor, Mr Alexiou claimed, was at odds with the official levels of conduct demanded by the bank.
In a separate claim, a senior bond salesman, Patrick O'Connor, is suing the bank after he was fired for running up $37,000 of expenses including his rent, healthcare payments, an $18,000 purchase of rare coins and several charges at hotels in Sydney and Hong Kong.
The sackings come amid several other key departures at the bank. In December last year, ANZ's head of markets, Steve Bellotti, left the bank. There have been other departures since.
Ahead of the claims being lodged in the Federal Court, Fairfax Media became aware of an out-of-control culture on ANZ's trading floor that had raised concerns within the bank and externally.
Eddie Listorti, the new acting head of global markets, signed the termination letters of both traders, Mr Alexiou and Mr O'Connor, and was cited at least three times by Mr Alexiou as acting inconsistently with ANZ's code of conduct.
Mr Alexiou and Mr O'Connor are separately suing the bank in the Federal Court for tens of millions of dollars of damages, lost bonuses and income after they were dismissed for inappropriate or offensive electronic communication and, in Mr O'Connor's case, the abuse of a company-issued credit card.
Mr O'Connor and Mr Alexiou's claims are difficult to read for all of us at ANZANZ's chief risk officer, Nigel Williams
ANZ said on Thursday that the staff were dismissed for serious breaches of its code and it would "be vigorously defending both their court applications".
"Mr O'Connor and Mr Alexiou's claims are difficult to read for all of us at ANZ but common sense says their behaviours are not consistent with our code of conduct and cannot be tolerated," ANZ's chief risk officer, Nigel Williams, said.
Mr Williams said ANZ had "already identified that many of the allegations made in both claims are not accurate and these inaccuracies will become apparent as the matters proceed through the court system".
He said ANZ would investigate allegations made about existing and former staff "that are bought to our attention either through our own management and monitoring or those raised by current or former staff".
Michael Harmer, the lawyer who represented Kristy Fraser-Kirk in her sexual harassment case against David Jones' former chief executive Mark McInnes, is acting for Mr O'Connor. Mr Alexiou's legal representative is Peter Punch of Caroll & O'Dea lawyers.
Mr Alexiou's $30 million claim is to cover deferred shares and bonuses and the loss of future income as a result of his sacking.
He was promoted by ANZ to head of balance sheet trading in March 2013 and was one of seven traders stood down as part of the bank bill swap rate (BBSW) investigation on November 19 in 2014, just seven days after he was awarded a $5 million performance bonus.
He was fired by the bank last September. The reason cited was the use of "highly offensive and inappropriate" language in emails and Bloomberg chat. The chats included disparaging comments to women and references to strip clubs and drugs, according to ANZ's termination letter submitted to the Fair Work Commission.
In total, there were 400 internal and external communications of concern from 2011 until September 2013, according to the termination letter.
While Mr Alexiou was among the traders investigated by the bank and the corporate regulator in relation to the bank bill swap rate, the bank confirmed his termination was a separate matter in the letter.
Mr Alexiou claims he was unfairly treated by the bank and questioned why he had not been reinstated while there were no findings of wrongdoing on his part, while a disciplinary investigation that led to his sacking was launched when there was "no proper reason to do so".
Mr Alexiou said he was told by another senior trader that he was unfortunately just "someone that had to be made out to be a big white dildo" in February 2014 after he was "stood down" as part of the BBSW investigation.
Unethical conduct concerns
In his statement, Mr Alexiou said he had raised concerns about unethical conduct towards bank clients on more than one occasion. He claimed that he was "exposed to a culture" at ANZ that "openly condoned" behaviour that was inconsistent with its code of conduct, values and policies.
Mr Alexiou was paid around $3.7 million to join the bank in 2011 as compensation for forgone bonus and share incentives from his previous employer, Barclays. He received bonuses of $11.3 million from 2012 to 2014 in cash and deferred shares. He is claiming $8.5 million in withheld payments and $21 million in past and future income losses. Mr Alexiou's $7.2 million Point Piper mansion was put up for sale in November 2015.
In a lengthy termination letter, Mr Listorti rejected Mr Alexiou's defence of his actions that the actual or "living" code of behaviour was at odds with the official code, and said as a "highly remunerated" senior executive, Mr Alexiou was responsible for setting the culture.
He considered, but dismissed, Mr Alexiou's argument that his health and stress should grant him leeway, while also rejecting that misspelt swear words, such as "k-k", "peniss" and "fark" were acceptable because they were not screened by the bank's surveillance systems.
Mr Alexiou claimed in his court filing that Mr Listorti had repeatedly used profanities, the most recent being an apparent threat in March 2014, when he told Mr Alexiou: "Either HR, market risk or f---ing fired. Which one is it?" according to Mr Alexiou's legal statement.
In a separate claim, Mr O'Connor, who was dismissed by ANZ in October 2015, is taking legal action against the bank. He demands that either his job be reinstated, damages be paid in addition to his 2015 bonus of $800,000 and reinstatement of his unvested shares, or he be compensated for his bonuses, shares, expenses, damages and the loss of future income.
Mr O'Connor, who had worked for the bank for 10 years as a senior fixed income salesman, was sacked for running up expenses on his corporate credit card of $37,000 over a one-year period, including an $18,000 purchase of rare coins, a $7468 rent payment to LJ Hooker and a $1478 health insurance payment. He made a $2740 payment for alcohol to a company called "Loke" and made three payments totalling $4000 to various Sydney hotels.
The bank mentioned seven instances of lewd and sexually explicit comments about "gang bangs" and having girls eat sushi off him while naked made by Mr O'Connor via his Bloomberg chat terminal.
Mr O'Connor claims ANZ "created, supported and encouraged" the "toxic and unsafe culture".
He claimed in his application that he suffered depression and hyperthymia, or extreme overactivity, and said ANZ had "selectively and disproportionately" subjected him to "investigation, suspension and termination" without attempting to "modify his behaviour".
This behaviour was "required" by ANZ's culture, and, as a result of his disabilities, he "could not effectively control himself".
Mr Williams said the bank understood that the claims have been made at a time of "community concern about behaviours in some financial markets businesses around the world" and as the bank was itself being investigated for potentially manipulating the bank bill swap rate.
But he said the 1000 staff in its Global Markets division continued to work hard for customers in a responsible manner and that the bank would "take the appropriate action to support and build its reputation for corporate responsibility".
To read the full story on the AFR's website here: Inside ANZ's toxic culture
First published on The Australian Financial Review.