Feared by the Banks, Loved by the Public

Fans call rogue trader Jerome Kerviel a modern Robin Hood.

February 9, 2009, 6:04 PM

LONDON, Feb. 1, 2008 — -- The man who has been dubbed the rogue trader by the media is becoming an Internet hero.

Some of his fans call him the Robin Hood of finance, others the Che Guevara of banks.

Jerome Kerviel, the French man who reportedly lost his employer Societe Generale $7.2 billion, hasn't given any media interviews since the scandal broke.

On Facebook, his profile disappeared soon after the scandal erupted, but several Kerviel fan groups have popped up in its place.

On one of the most prominent Facebook groups called "Jerome Kerviel should be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics," Blake Cromwell gave tribute to Kerviel for having taken on a major bank.

"You are the man," Cromwell wrote. "The banks have a license to steal and deserved what they got. … Those political fat cats are not as smart as they thought they were. … Nice going Jerome!"

"Bravo Jerome," wrote Mathieu Apotheker, "you all made us dream."

Another group suggested a donation campaign to rescue the trader. "If 5 billion people join this group & give ?1 we save Jerome Kerviel's career," one writer proposed. However, as of today the group only had 1,691 members and there was no indication that anyone had donated a euro.

For some, Kerviel has become a sex symbol.

Shirts with the words "Jerome Kerviel's girlfriend" can be bought on the Web, and there is a Facebook group for female fans called "Kerviel is my boyfriend" — with 50 members so far.

JeromeKerviel.com offers online support to stressed-out traders.

"Are you trading under pressure?" reads the home page. "Jerome understands. Send your story now. Merci."

Giorgio Bassmatti, a singer based in San Sebastao, Spain, posted an ode to the rogue trader on YouTube.

"You are the Robin Hood of those who have to pay their mortgage each month," reads the song. "You little one, we all once wished we were like you. … People shamelessly shout that you should pay for your dishonesty, please ignore them, little Kerviel."

"I am fascinated by Kerviel," Bassmatti told ABC News. "Even his picture is so intriguing, with his closed eyes, he looks almost mean."

"But I like the idea of a man attacking a bank on his own," he said.

The sympathy for the rogue trader is so widespread that now even big companies are surfing on the Kerviel wave.

KitKat candy bars crafted a cartoon commercial featuring the rogue trader escaping his hierarchy, the media and justice, thanks to a KitKat break.

"Kerviel's story is beautiful and universal," Laurent Drezner, editor in chief of "Le Buzz," a French television show about the Internet, told ABC News. "He is a man on his own, who made a massive mistake. Societe Generale does not have a good reputation, so Kerviel is seen as a Robin Hood."

However, Drezner concedes that in the United States Kerviel is not the beloved man he is in Europe.

"Why is this guy a superstar?" wrote Stephan Breuer on Facebook. "I don't understand, he is just a loser."

The scandal also gave a platform to subtle mockery of France and its world-famous employee-friendly environment.

"Awwwwesome!" wrote Marc Andres Valdiviezo from New York. "France is back on the world stage and is the leader in something. … Congratulations."

"Friends of rogue trader Jerome Kerviel blamed his $7 billion losses on unbearable levels of stress," read an e-mail that circulated over the last days. "Kerviel was known to start work as early as 9 in the morning and still be at his desk at 5 or even 5:30, often with just an hour and a half for lunch."

Like him or not, many admit that Kerviel accomplished a prowess in hiding what is the world's biggest financial loss.

"I'm still wondering how he did it," wrote Mahmoud Khatib on Facebook. "How did so much money go unaccounted for?"

The bank's directors have denied any responsibility in failing to enact efficient control systems.

On Thursday, hundreds of Societe Generale employees demonstrated and carried boards with the inscription "We love SG" outside the bank's headquarters in the outskirts of Paris to support bank chairman Daniel Bouton.

Their argument: Bouton's departure would only make things worse.

There were reports this week that the trader made money out of the July 7 bombings in London.

He reportedly cashed in about $750,000 on a bet that the share of German insurer Allianz would fall.

Kerviel, who has not formally been fired, faces up to five years in prison and a substantial fine.

Most think that it will be Kerviel and not the bank's manager who will pay for the loss.

"I think that Kerviel is a scapegoat," said Bassmatti. "The managers are probably responsible, but a bank's president will always go unpunished."

However, if he goes to prison some of his Web fans have promised him unconditional support.

"I take my hat off to you Jerome Kerviel," wrote Wissam Moussallem on Facebook. "We will support you [till] the end."

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