Dark Towers by David Enrich

Banks were unpopular after the 2007-08 financial crisis, not least because of the huge sums doled out by taxpayers to keep them afloat.

Deutsche Bank wasn’t one of the institutions in which the US government took a stake (although it did receive billions of dollars in loans from the Federal Reserve), but this hardly makes up for the criminal behavior revealed by David Enrich in this astonishing new exposé.

Need to convert dirty rubles into dollars? No problem. Looking to send funds to a terrorist group in Iraq? Deutsche could help. From the early 2000s the financial institution once synonymous with German stability and prudence became the bank of choice for unsavory characters doing business in unsavory places.

Enrich’s new title is forensically reported – we are brought into the room as senior executives rip into each other apart over the permissibility of transactions, and details of surveillance carried out by the bank after the death of one senior executive leaves the reader wondering how the bank’s top team could be so devoid of scruples but also business sense. The book sheds light on the finances of Donald Trump and raises the curtain to examine a range of the characters that allowed him to run for president. Particularly notable is Rosemary Vrablic, Trump’s private banker and personal advocate within Deutsche, who papered over many a financial crisis on his behalf.

Perhaps most striking in this morality tale for the twenty-first century is the speed at which Deutsche Bank’s culture began to disintegrate. In the 1990s a clutch of power hungry senior executives were able to rapidly steer the institution down a path that would lead it to compete with other Wall Street monoliths for high risk, high margin business.

Instead of pursuing long-term client relationships it shifted its focus to a strategy of short termism, selling complex financial instruments to unsuspecting buyers in the hope of reaping high commissions. Financial institutions require a competitive tension between risk-takers and risk managers in order to survive, and this story is a clear reminder of what happens when the scales are pushed too far in favor of the former.

DARK TOWERS is published by Custom House, pp. 416, $29.99, February 2020.

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