More than a decade after Bernie Madoff was charged with running a Ponzi scheme worth an estimated $65 billion, “we can begin to see the secrets of Madoff’s success,” according to a recent Bloomberg article that outlined the key principles he applied.
Here is a summary:
- Discipline. “The scheme was internally consistent, records were kept, clients received fictitious statements on a regular basis, and those who wanted to withdraw cash received it promptly.”
- Consistency. While in its totality, Madoff’s investment record was “far too good to be true. But no one year ever looked that great.” He compounded his fictitious “gains” at a rate of around 10%, year after year, never claiming to do better.
- Who to target. “Madoff understood that conservative people can be conned by the right kind of trickster, and not just the greedy hoping to make a fast buck.”
- Exclusivity sells. Madoff had a well-practiced routine of telling friends his funds were full, there was no room for them— “only to relent and say that he could find a way in for them.”
- Elusiveness. Madoff rarely discussed his investing strategy with anyone and, when he did, was “comically imprecise.”
- “Utter ruthlessness and a sociopathic lack of any concern for others make crime much easier.”
- Cover. Madoff ran a brokerage and rose to be chairman of Nasdaq, both of which offered him cover.
The article notes that there were red flags early on, but nothing stuck. “Journalists were sniffing around and Barron’s, one of the most influential voices on Wall Street, had run a piece questioning his numbers as early as 2001. But Madoff’s scheme was so well conceived and organized that he carried on as ever.”
Still, regulatory changes since that time have been minimal, the article reports.