Review – No One Would Listen

One might ask who Harry Markopolos is and why should one care about his book. Well, he is the whistleblower that launched an investigation towards Madoff investment scandal and managed to figure out that it was a Ponzi scheme in 1999 while everyone (at least the SEC) did not take him seriously or thought he was crazy. At the very least, they wanted to pretend that whatever Markopolos said was not true and they would rather not know anything untoward about Madoff. ‘No One Would Listen’ is his account of the investigation and its aftermath.

Despite throwing around words like thriller, it is not exactly an adrenaline-filled read that will make your heart race. However, you may want to smack your head in several times given your opinion on Markopolos. While I am positive that he is a brilliant whistleblower, quant, and financial professional he is not the most polished writer. This can be viewed as a good thing his writing is very conversational ; in fact I am contemplating if I should listen to the audiobook if Markopolos narrated it (he didn’t), because there’s nothing like hearing an author’s exact tone when conveying his/her message. He does have a very wry sense of humour in spades. Unfortunately, he also slips in plenty of frustration, smugness and vindication in the narrative. Again, I can understand where he’s coming from: he was one of the people in a team who realized that Madoff was too-good-to-be-true and had all the documentation to prove it, and was ignored constantly. Just be aware of his treatment towards certain individuals and organizations, since he is clearly a biased person involved in the case.

And this is why I thought it is such an interesting and important read; to witness the incompetence of certain agencies of the government in such a spectacular fashion as a bystander seems hilarious, but it is also pretty horrifying given that these are institutes that people put great faith in. Reading about Markopolos’ various methods to gather intelligence is interesting, but that is hardly the heart of the book. Markopolos’ initial interest in the magical abilities of Madoff producing such consistent returns to his (correct) theory of Madoff running a Ponzi scheme occurred in approximately the first third of the book; the rest is a very much back-and-forth battle to get other people to acknowledge that something fraudulent is happening (which plenty of industry experts agree, they just don’t care) and to prompt the SEC into action. The more informative parts come from Markopolos’ explanations of  how the financial industry really works, how most laws are obsolete then minute they become law since firms will find new products to circumvent them, how poorly compensated (if at all compensated) whistleblowers are, and how exactly the SEC operates (or not operate).

Speaking of people’s lives, don’t expect a human account of the investigation aside from Markopolos’ life consisting mostly of paranoia, the threat of someone trying to assassin him which again may or may not be true, and frustration with the SEC. This is mainly an account for Markopolos to get his feelings out about his quick investigation and his very long battle to get the SEC to take action with all the facts that he gathered.

According to Markopolos’ words, everyone is black or white, competent or incompetent, and one gets the feeling that he does not tolerate fools. While he does have unique word choices (no, not swear words) for those that cannot see what is in front of them, his most scathing remarks are always reserved for the SEC. Here’s a choice selection of them: “These college greenhorns couldn’t find cattle in a stampede”, “That particular inspection team wouldn’t have been able to find a batter in the batter’s box”, and the “SEC couldn’t find ice cream in a Dairy Queen”. Trust me, there are plenty more in the book for you to find. During the read, while I completely understand Markopolos’ frustration, I could also understand why the SEC didn’t want to pay attention to him.

Ultimately though, it is an informative read and while the author’s voice is very brash, it is an excellent eye-opener regarding the financial industry and a fascinating primary source for those who would one day like to write about this particular financial meltdown/fraud.

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