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Citi analyst dismissed for lying about meal expenses: learnings

Szabolcs Fekete was doing ok at Citi. After joining the US bank in 2015, he worked there for eight years and was a senior analyst in the EMEA regulatory exam management and oversight team until, one day last summer, he took his partner on a fateful work trip to Amsterdam and bought him/her what appears to have been....

  • One sandwich
  • One coffee 
  • One meal (either pasto pesto or bolognese) 
  • Possibly one other soft drink 

...all on the company credit card. 

The purchases were Fekete's undoing. After a disciplinary process, Citi fired him in November 2022 for gross misconduct.  The dismissal wasn't just about the incorrect expense claim, but the fact that Fekete lied about it during a subsequent investigation, in which he variously insisted that he i) ate the food himself at intervals throughout the day, ii) said another colleague had been present to drink the coffee and iii) claimed to have got confused over the company card and his own personal card. Fekete also added that the expenses were far below his daily €100 meal allowance anyway, and that he was upset by the death of his grandmother at the time of the investigation.

Fekete attempted to argue that he was wrongfully dismissed. But as the Financial Times reported this morning, the East London Employment Tribunal ruled earlier this month that Citi was within its rights to let him go. Tragically, therefore, Fekete's career seems to have been cut short by wrongfully expensing food and drink worth less than a night out in McDonalds.

It's not unheard of for junior bankers to be fired for expenses issues: Bank of America Merrill Lynch let go of a series of analysts in 2016; JPMorgan fired bankers for falsely claiming 'client-related expenses' in 2014; and five Barclays bankers were fired in 2002 after spending £44k on wine to celebrate a successful deal.

Fekete's transgression seems minor by comparison. Many junior banking analysts have claimed more and got away with it.

Where did he go wrong?

Firstly, he worked in a compliance-related role. You cannot be all about preventing financial crime, and then tell fibs about your expenses.

Secondly, he told his colleague that his partner came to Amsterdam with him, and after first denying that they consumed any of the controversial foods, admitted that maybe they had eaten some of it.

Thirdly, he tried to blame the bank for his problems, arguing that the investigators were aggressive and didn't much like him anyway.

Bankers experienced in the matter of expenses, say Fekete could simply have managed his receipts better. Instead of expensing a pasta and pesto and a bolognese that came in well below the expense limit, why not ask the restaurant to record the two meals as a single steak that cost the same amount? Instead of buying two coffees and claiming one was drunk later, why not buy a Venti latte and ask for a receipt for two regulars? Etc. etc. 

Most of all, though, why risk your job for food equivalent to a meal deal in the first place?

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Photo by Ceyda Çiftci on Unsplash

 

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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