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A sign in need of repair is seen outside a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) in the City of London February 4, 2013. Photograph taken on February 4, 2013. Royal Bank of Scotland will be punished on Wednesday for its role in a global interest rate rigging scandal, with fines of between 400-500 million pounds ($783 million) expected. The part-nationalised bank will be fined by authorities in Britain and the United States for the attempted manipulation of the London interbank offered rate (Libor) and other key benchmark rates.Andrew Winning/Reuters

Every day, each of us makes small requests of our colleagues. Could you send such-and-such a document? Would you mind giving me your thoughts on the following?

For some traders at the Royal Bank of Scotland, it appears, such routine requests included this question: might you try to manipulate a major interest rate for me so that I can make some more money?

What's striking about the employee communications detailed in Wednesday's settlement between RBS and U.S. authorities is just how casual and run-of-the-mill such favours were.

The employees receiving the requests were responsible for submitting the bank's daily estimate for a benchmark borrowing rate to a third party, together with other banks. By sending artificially high or low submissions, they could skew the final averaged result – and make their colleagues cash in the process.

Take for instance, this exchange, conducted by instant message in 2009:

Swiss franc trader: can we get high 3[month], low 6m pls!

Primary submitter: maybe


Primary submitter: ok 41 52

Swiss franc trader: perfect perfect


Or the following one, from 2010:

Former sterling cash trader: can i pick ur brain?

Primary submitter: yeah

Former sterling cash trader: u see 3[month] jpy libor going anywhere btween now and imm?

Primary submitter: looks fairly static to be honest, poss more pressure on upside, but not alot

Former sterling cash trader: oh[,] we hve a mutual friend who'd love to see it go down, no chance at all?

Primary submitter: haha [former UBS Yen Trader at Bank C] by chance

Former sterling cash trader: shhh

Primary submitter: hehehe , mine should remain flat , always suits me if anything to go lower as i rcve funds

Former sterling cash trader: gotcha, thanks, and, if u cud see ur way to a small drop there might be a steak in it for ya, haha

Primary submitter: noted ;-)


It's not as though the traders involved – in places like London, Singapore and Tokyo – didn't know that what they were doing was wrong. But there appeared to be a sense that everyone was doing it and that this is how the game was played.

Witness this conversation from back in 2007:

Senior Yen Trader: this libor setting is getting nutss


Bank A Trader: im puzzled as to why 3m libor fixing not coming off after the FED action


Bank B Trader: [UBS] is lending dolls through my currencies in 3 month do u see him doing the same in urs


Senior Yen Trader: yes[,] he always led usd in my mkt[,] the jpy libor is a cartel now


Senior Yen Trader: its just amazing how libor fixing can make you that much money


Senior Yen Trader: its a cartel now in london[.] they smack all the 1yr irs ..and fix it very high or low