Comment: Why bankers need to be mathematicians

"When he returns to Swiss Bank, Mr Bogni will be one of that rare breed - a senior banker who actually knows what he is talking about"
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The Independent Online
Ever since it was announced that Marcel Ospel would be chief executive of SBC Warburg, everyone has been wondering what would become of Swiss Bank's chief executive in London, Rudi Bogni. Now we know. Staff have been told he is off for a one-to-two year sabbatical to study advanced mathematical options theory under Gerry Salkin at Imperial College's Centre for Quantum Studies. "He must be mad," was one response. Another was that he is a victim of SBC's £860m takeover of Warburg's investment banking operations.

Mr Bogni is, after all, the man most closely associated with Swiss Bank's aggressive and sometimes controversial push into the London investment banking scene. Often, he was seen to be warring with more traditional and conservatively run houses and with Warburg in particular in his push for new business. To have left him in a position of authority and control during the difficult and painful merger process would have been seen as undiplomatic, to put it at its mildest. The statesman-like figure of Mr Ospel, on the other hand, allows the Warburg people to salvage at least some pride from the wreckage.

People will think what they will and not be told otherwise, but in fact what Mr Bogni is doing is what most senior bankers probably need to do at least once in their career - take a break and go back to college. Banking executives are often accused these days of understanding little or nothing about the activities of the teenage traders and "rocket scientists" who drive their fast-growing derivatives activities. By all accounts, you would not have required a PhD in advanced mathematics to have spotted that what Nick Leeson was up to couldn't possibly have made money. The Barings collapse made the point nonetheless; banking is increasingly being run by people who do not understand fully the business they operate in.

Swiss Bank is a leading world player in all three main derivative areas - interest rate swops, equity options and foreign exchange options. Mr Bogni would probably claim to know something of how they all work, but the mathematical theory behind them is something else. When he returns to Swiss Bank, Mr Bogni will be one of that rare breed - a senior banker who actually knows what he is talking about.

The world is full of sceptics, however. Even though he will not be starting his studies until the end of the year and will therefore play a key role in the early stages of the merger, few will believe that the advancement of technical knowledge is the real explanation for his going. Whatever the truth, Mr Bogni is probably wise to be away from the infighting that is bound to occur in the early stages of this awkward marriage. By the time he returns, it will be to a once-more stable and self-confident organisation. The new SBC Warburg combine deserves to work, despite the forced circumstances under which it is coming about.