Book Review by Andy Ghillyer
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 are the latest in a long line of attempts at federal regulation to curb the unbridled greed of global financial markets and their major players. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), created under Dodd-Frank, has since been undermined and sidelined at the encouragement of aggressive Wall Street lobbying.
In his new book, Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump, and an Epic Trail of Destruction, author and finance editor of The New York Times, David Enrich presents a fascinating profile of one of those major players––Deutsche Bank. Beginning with the bank’s decision to support a default-prone railroad magnate in the 1880’s, up to its continued willingness to lend money to real estate developer Donald Trump when no one else would, Enrich succeeds in turning over many more rocks than Deutsche Bank would prefer.
An Ugly Past
Deutsche Bank’s association with Nazism (including the removal of all Jews from the company to curry favor with Hitler) makes for painful reading, as does the information that the bank financed the construction of both the Auschwitz concentration camp and the nearby manufacturing plant that produced the Zyklon B chemical used in the gas chambers. The invitation given to Hermann Abs, who led the company during this period and was convicted as a war criminal, to attend the second inaugural of Dwight D. Eisenhower, underlines how easily Deutsche Bank was able to overcome its dark past when new opportunities presented themselves. This practice of making decisions based on expedience rather than ideology was to become a central tenet of the bank’s culture.
Trail of Destruction
The 2014 suicide of a senior Deutsche Bank executive and the subsequent investigation by his son into the secrets his father kept, represent the greater portion of the book. From the decision of “hard-charging executives” to pursue Wall Street dominance in the 1990’s to the bank’s alleged connection to Russia’s involvement in the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States, Enrich documents a quarter-century of at-best questionable and at-worst illegal and immoral choices that drove Deutsche Bank to dominance in the global financial markets.
Reading about the bank’s relationship with Donald Trump, and the persistence of his assigned banker Rosemary Vrablic in appealing multiple attempts to pass on making loans to the Trump Organization, is like watching a train wreck unfold in slow motion. The dedication to short-term gains over longer-term financial stability, combined with the need to be seen as a major player that is comfortable in high-risk scenarios, leads the bank to a point where they have no choice but to lend more money to Trump, despite his multiple bankruptcies and track record of fiscal irresponsibility, if only to prevent defaults on his existing loan portfolio.
The gleaming twin towers of Deutsche Bank’s global headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany are nicknamed by locals as “debit” and “credit.” Enrich’s new nickname of “dark towers” seems far more appropriate. With the multiple failed attempts to clean-up the culture of the bank, documented in such impressive detail in this book, the shadows cast by those towers continue to be very dark.
Dark Towers presents a fascinating profile of Deutsche Bank––a financial institution that became the global face of financial recklessness and criminality.
Andy Ghillyer is a Contributing Writer at Soundview. He lives in Tampa, FL where he specializes in writing for the B2B and academic markets while raising a growing menagerie of cats and dogs. His other reviews are here.
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