Richard Bowen

Banker, Professor: b.

"The banking and Savings and Loan crisis of the 1980's cost our country over $150 billion -- and we criminally convicted 1,000 senior bankers. The financial crisis of 2008 is expected to ultimately cost our country over $24 trillion -- with zero senior bankers prosecuted. And it is not because of lack of evidence. I can attest to personally and professionally, how greed, corruption and a total disregard for stakeholders led to the massive meltdown. "


In June 2006, Richard Bowen was a vice president at Citigroup, at that time the largest bank in the world. He noticed that his company was making bad home loans that buyers could not afford to pay back. After making those loans, Citigroup sold them to other banks and investors who didn’t know that the home buyers would be unable to pay their mortgages. Sometimes loan officers lied on the applications to make it look like borrowers had enough money to pay when they really didn’t. When things went south, buyers lost their homes and the bank lost the money they’d lent them.  These were the infamous sub-prime loans.

Bowen sent emails and weekly reports to others at the bank telling them that the loans were bad and would lead to huge losses and economic destruction. They didn’t listen because they were making too much money selling the bad loans.

Bowen was committed to being brave and doing the right thing, even if his bosses didn’t listen. As Bowen kept sending emails to the Chief Financial Officer and others at Citibank, borrowers continued to fall behind on their payments.  The bank knowingly continued to make bad loans, which is against the law, and kept Bowen’s warnings a secret. Because they knew the fines for breaking banking laws would be smaller than the profits from selling bad loans, Citigroup leaders saw no reason to stop what they were doing. Eventually, 80% of the bad loans failed, and those borrowers lost their homes.

Citibank was not the only bank that used this unfair business practice. Other banks were selling bad loans, which resulted in a major financial crisis beginning in 2008. After these loans failed, some banks went bankrupt or had to be purchased by other banks. Because banks are critical to the functioning of the US economy, the government has committed more than 16 trillion dollars in taxpayer dollars to bail them out since 2008. The United States fell into a recession that lasted two years, resulting in lost jobs, lost homes, lost retirement savings,  and lost economic productivity.

Citibank officials did not appreciate Richard Bowen’s efforts to help them make better business decisions. He was demoted, his workload reduced. Unafraid, Bowen filed a complaint with the government, stating he had been retaliated against for telling the truth. He testified to the Securities and Exchange Commission, explaining how the law had been broken, and provided one thousand pages of documents proving the bank’s crimes. Later, Citigroup fired Bowen and required him to sign a confidentiality agreement, promising he would not tell anyone what he had seen at Citibank.

Eventually, investigators of the subprime mortgage crisis called Bowen to testify. They told him to prepare thirty pages of testimony. After writing a twenty-eight page testimony, he was ready to go up against the big banks and their billions of dollars. Later, bit by bit, his testimony was reduced to eight pages and covered up by the investigators. He was told to remove the names of those who broke the law at Citibank. Though several crimes were committed, no bank employee was ever charged. Bowen believed that government officials and investigators were doing favors for Citibank employees.

Bowen told the New York Times that, “It was devastating. It truly was. From my standpoint, the corruption extends to the highest levels of government. I feel absolutely, completely violated. Every principle that I grew up with, and even when I did a brief stint in the R.O.T.C. and the Air Force, it’s just completely violated.”

Still, Bowen is determined to make a positive impact on the United States. He left the banking world and is making a difference as a speaker and teacher. He is an accounting professor at the University of Texas, Dallas (4), where he teaches future business leaders how to do their work with integrity. Bowen is an in-demand speaker, touring the nation to educate employers and employees. He teaches them how to create businesses where people are comfortable speaking up and managers are empowered to take problems seriously. His message encourages employees to make personal responsibility (doing the right thing), and courage (speaking up when you see others doing the wrong thing) the foundation of their work every day. Today, he writes a blog, where anyone in the world can read Bowen’s opinions on his past experiences and updates about current banking and oversight concerns. Richard Bowen’s ethics are essential for creating a business world that helps, rather than harms, taxpayers and consumers.