Skandal! Bringing down Wirecard 2022
Connective Payments team, October 2022
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Skandal! – The collapse of Wirecard made into a movie
It has been over 3 years since the Wirecard scandal unfolded before our astonished eyes. What started as an economic fairy tale turned into a nightmare.
Finally, in addition to the rock-solid but old-school German industries, Germany could pride itself with an upstart Fintech company. But to the horror of the financial establishment, the new darling of the DAX went down spectacularly. The hip online payment processor turned out to be the fraudulent money machine of a bunch of megalomaniac managers, who eventually got entangled in their own web. That sounded like the scenario of an exciting movie and sure enough: in September a smooth report of the demise of “the German version of Paypal” appeared on Netflix: Skandal! Bringing Down Wirecard 2022.
Skandal! Bringing Down Wirecard 2022
Director: James Erskine
The central figure in the documentary is Dan McCrum, the Financial Times journalist who exposed the massive fraud. Like a British Bob Woodward, he unraveled the maze of lies, hot air, non-existent customers and questionable acquisitions in a series of articles. But to his surprise, it took forever for the market to react. McCrum’s articles were initially successfully “kaltgestellt” by Wirecard: the FT journalist was said to have been influenced, rather naively, by a group of shortsellers who bet on a fall in share price.
Private detectives, shadowy underworld figures, the German Public Prosecutor’s Office, they were all deployed to make McCrum suspicious, with the result that the company’s share price continued to rise, as if nothing had happened. The documentary suggests that the company’s dominant COO, Jan Marsalek, was the chief evil genius. Scandal! tells the story at great speed, against the backdrops of international airports, starred restaurants and country houses, and even an inconsiderable cottage in County Durham, UK, where part of the conglomerate was allegedly based: clearly a letterbox company in a rural part of North-East England.
Skandal! Bringing Down Wirecard 2022 is distantly reminiscent of that other Netflix film, The Big Short, about a bunch of opportunistic men in smart suits who make clever use of the gullibility of the financial markets. EY, Wirecard’s accountant, fell seriously short for several years. Indications of accounting fraud were not detected. On key issues, EY relied on verbal commitments from executives. Several red flags were ignored.
What strikes most about Skandal! may be the attitude of the powerful German regulator BaFin (Bundesanstalt für Finanzdienstleistungsaufsicht), who for a long time continued to ignore the information that the FT gradually scooped up. The film does not say what the reason was. Was it naivety and could the supervisor simply not imagine the shaky, even criminal reality hiding behind the shiny facade in Aschheim? Or was there a targeted policy, because the BaFin was committed to covering up its own failures as a regulator? Both explanations are worrying, to say the least. When the smoke cleared in 2020, CEO Markus Braun arrested, COO Jan Marsalek on the run and hundreds of customers and shareholders duped, the BaFin was left shamefaced. The result: a huge loss of prestige and a deep crisis of confidence in the German economy, once so famous for its trustworthiness and “Gründlichkeit”.
For those who have slowly forgotten the Wirecard story, and how the bubble finally burst, Skandal! Bringing Down Wirecard 2022 is a highly recommended thriller.