EXCLUSIVE: Regulators in Australia refuse to act on the complaints and concerns of up to 15 former and current staff of global derivatives trading firm, Optiver, which reveal a shocking culture of sexual abuse, bullying, cover-ups and illegal trading activities. Some former employees have said the company is like working for the real Wolf of Wall Street. Serkan Ozturk reports.
If you haven’t heard of Optiver before, you’re not alone. They are what is known as an “electronic market-maker” on many of the Exchanges around the world. In a nutshell, they offer buy and sell prices to participants in these markets for all sorts of financial instruments like Stocks, Options, and EFTs. They make money through the difference in buy and sell prices, as well as a range of algorithmic trading strategies. A simple analogy is money exchange houses you see at the Airport buying and selling currency – only Optiver does it online with 1,000s of products and instruments on global Exchanges. From Australia they mainly trade the Asian Markets – including Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Japan, and more.
You probably have never heard of them because they don’t have traditional clients or customers. They trade their own capital. They hire some of the smartest mathematicians and STEM students – they prefer to mould them in their own image. Each year they make over 1 billion Euros in revenue and their assets exceed 90 billion Euros, according to their own annual reports. Their traders, partners and increasingly IT engineers are some of the highest paid people on the planet. They compete for talent in the tech space from the likes of Google, Atlassian, Canva and many more – and are best known in universities as the guys offering $250k packages straight out of university.
Despite not being known outside the industry, Optiver is no stranger to controversy and bad publicity – even when trying to operate from the shadows. In 2021, their founding office in Amsterdam was fined hundreds of thousands of Euros and found guilty of enabling a toxic environment for women and minorities after a female trader sued for sexual harassment. In the judgement, the Court found the acceptance of behaviour that would be “considered unthinkable in any other environment by today’s standards”.
For the past six months and more, True Crime News Weekly has been investigating Optiver’s operations in Australia which have been described by some as a crazed Frat House of ‘Flash-Boys’ making billions off volatile markets. More shockingly however has been the cashed-up company’s treatment of people in 2023 – especially women, marginalised people and those experiencing mental health challenges.
It’s clear the Australian office on Hunter Street in Sydney’s CBD has not learnt from their Dutch colleagues being exposed. True News Crimes Weekly spoke with multiple ex-Optiver employees (or Optiverians as they are referred to internally) for this investigation. While many spoke with us, most remained fearful of their ex-employer – with the exception of ex-Head of HR Business Partnering & Operations, Mr Yan Kruger.
“Once I left Optiver, unable to work with the senior leadership team over a clash of values and their mistreatment of people (including myself), I was contacted by many ex-colleagues asking for my help,” Mr Kruger said.
“So we’ve been exploring legal action after my escalation to Optiver Global in Amsterdam only led to continued cover-ups.”
A whole heap of examples have been provided to True Crime News Weekly by witnesses and victims of bullying, sexual harassment, and discrimination at a scale that suggests deep and entrenched cultural issues within Optiver.
The most damning allegations related to the long-time IT ‘Tribe Leader’ and “Head of Business Transformation”, Mr Rohan Smith.
Sexual Assault at Optiver Company Trip
Hired in 2012, it wasn’t long before Mr Smith was making headlines internally for all the wrong reasons. At a lavish two-night company-paid trip in 2014, Mr Smith proceeded to make the most of the free-flowing and unlimited alcohol provided by Optiver Management. After many drinks, Mr Smith decided, with the Head of Trading at the time, Mr Baydon Fisher, to strip naked and run fully exposed around the venue – exposing their genitals to hundreds of Optiver employees and other guests of the venue. Soon after, Mr Smith, while still heavily intoxicated approached a female staff member in the HR team. In front of hundreds of colleagues, Mr Smith pulled down her strapless dress, fully exposing one of her breasts.
Rohan Smith: Optiver’s Head of Business Transformation stripped naked while drunk at a company event before he then allegedly sexually assaulted a female colleague (Image: Supplied)
The young female staff member was understandably left traumatised by the assault. Despite the seriousness of the incident, the directors of the Australian business (Optiver Pty Ltd), and the Head of HR at the time failed to report the crime to NSW Police – a crime itself under the Australian Corporations Act as well as a breach also of Australian directorship duties.
On the preceding Monday, the CEO and Head of HR at the time committed to the victim that the incident would be appropriately addressed. The CEO even went as far as to offer to terminate Mr Smith. Before the victim could respond, the Head of HR jumped in saying that that would put Optiver in a difficult position as it had supplied the copious alcohol freely. The Head of HR then helped fabricate a false story against the victim, claiming she had taken photos of Mr Smith’s and Mr Fisher’s stark-naked run, as though such an act would somehow excuse Mr Smith’s behaviour.
Mr Smith was unsurprisingly not terminated. Instead he was given a written warning instructing him to refrain from drinking alcohol at Optiver events for three months and to attend a behaviour management training course.
Following the incident, the victim’s position in HR become untenable as the Head of HR’s behaviour and treatment escalated. Whilst attempting to resolve the treatment via a complaint to the then CEO in 2015, the victim was eventually pushed out. True Crimes News Weekly understands the Head of HR now works at competitor Vivien Court, founded and led by the ex-Optiver CEO of the Sydney office, Mr Rob Keldoulis.
Mr Smith’s Continued Misconduct
Mr Rohan Smith’s unsavoury behaviour didn’t end at the 2014 company event. We spoke to numerous ex-employees, including direct reports, who confirmed the following:
- In 2020, Mr Smith threatened a Senior IT Engineer to “f*** him over in (performance) calibrations” if he “didn’t get his sh*t together” (referring to the Engineer’s mental health challenges). Threats were made in front on multiple witnesses and Mr Smith did not deny the incident when spoken to by the CTO, Mr Scott McKenzie. Mr McKenzie, his direct manager, decided a verbal conversation would suffice as a response – despite advice from HR to the contrary.
- Mr Smith openly boasted on numerous occasions across IT of getting rid of people, creating and sustaining a culture of fear and intimidation.
- Mr Smith bullied and harassed at least two prior Senior IT Leaders. Both were suffering from mental health issues because of Mr Smith’s treatment and for some time after leaving Optiver – leading them unable to work for sometime.
- Mr Smith sent inappropriate and threatening messages to multiple ex-employees.
Traumatised Ex-Employees due to Mr Smith’s Treatment
It seems that Mr Smith left a long trail of destruction in his wake.
One ex-Optiver software engineer has said their anxiety was “worsened significantly” as a result of Mr Smith’s treatment.
“I became afraid of my 1:1s with Rohan,” the former employee revealed. “Rohan often bragged about how he had fired a bunch of people in the past. I think it was a whole team he fired. He would talk bad about specific people that he had fired too.”
Yet another ex-Optiver senior software engineer has claimed that he was frequently humiliated and treated with distain by Mr Smith.
“I was made to fear my livelihood and encouraged to work at the expense of my health – depending on dangerous medications to make it through each week,” the ex-employee said.
“RS knew of my mental health challenges and isolation from my team and responded with callousness and resentment.”
Continued Protection of Mr Smith
Despite the litany of misconduct, Mr Smith remains employed and protected by the highest levels of Optiver’s management. Since learning of legal action being explored by a number of ex-employees – including many IT staff and previous direct reports of Mr Smith – Optiver took the action of placing Mr Smith on a three-month sabbatical.
Mr Smith continues to be an employee of Optiver and we understand he is due to return to Optiver in late March. This publication can only assume Optiver is hoping the allegations raised by our investigation blow over and that no legal action is taken – further exposing their protection of Mr Smith.
Drinking beer: Senior Optiver employee Rohan Smith was simply told not to consume alcohol for three months at company events after he sexually assaulted a female colleague (Image: Supplied)
Culture of Bullying and Mental Health at Optiver
Some might think Mr Smith might just be a ‘bad apple’ – but alas Optiver has a continued history of mistreatment across the business and its existence. One long-term veteran and ex-Senior IT leader at Optiver said the company for the first couple of years of its operations in Australia rewarded hard work and effort fairly but then a cultural shift began to take place.
“It became a company where bullying and politics was the only way to go forward,” the former senior employee stated. “If you didn’t undercut or stomp on the person next to you were actively removed from the organisation under the guise of ‘you need to be competitive to survive in this industry’. This led to more than one person suffering metal breakdowns during their time at Optiver.”
In speaking to many ex-Optiverians, we heard a consistent theme around mental health. And despite Optiver HR doing their best to bring in programs and actions to raise mental health awareness, encouraging people to ask for help and EAP services, the specifics of how the leadership team treats people with mental health challenges was damning.
Another ex-IT Leader was quoted as saying “I know people who were on the edge of suicide as a result of their (Optiver’s) treatment of people.”
Optiver’s continued mistreatment of female employees and marginalised employees has continued. Over a four-month period, Optiver pushed out four senior female employees. Bear in mind that within Optiver female representation is roughly about 25%, with even less in trading, tech and leadership positions. Optiver’s standard play is to force the signing of aggressive Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) to ensure they are silenced. Most damning of the recent exits was the female Head of Tax who had 11 pages of harassment allegations against Optiver’s CFO, Paul Cotter. True Crimes News Weekly understands she was paid to leave silently and not take her allegations further.
11 Pages of Harassment Allegations: Optiver CFO Paul Cotter
Optiver Putting Profits Before Building Fire Safety
The serious allegations against Optiver meanwhile also include claims the company willing and wilfully placed its employees in serious physical danger, simply to make more money.
A number of ex-staff attached to Optiver’s Sydney Facilities & Office Management team were asked by senior management on multiple occasions, over a number of years, that they turn off fire alarms in Optiver’s Hunter Street head office on busy trading days. Management was concerned that alarms going off would cause trading revenue losses and lost opportunities during evacuations. Not only is this extremely illegal, but it’s also highly unethical. The mindset, as described by multiple sources, of the Optiver management team, mostly made up of ex-Traders, is one of extreme and ruthless rationality. As one ex-Optiverian put it, “they would see it as a probability trade – chances of a death or causality is low, whilst the chance of missing out on or losing millions in trade revenue is high. It’s sickening. Putting a price on people’s lives and then covering it up.”
Sham Optiver Investigation with Top Tier Law Firm Help
Mr Kruger, Optiver’s former Head of HR Business Partnering & Operations, confirmed he had raised issues relating to the culture of the business and specifically about Mr Smith’s behaviours for years. On leaving the company in 2022, Mr Kruger again raised issues regarding Mr Smith’s current and historical bullying actions after receiving an offensive and threatening text message from Mr Smith.
True Crimes News Weekly even attended an internal investigation interview late last year with Mr Kruger. Mr Kruger was being interviewed by ex-ASIC, now private investigator, Scott McLintock of Curby McLintock, who was paid by Optiver via their lawyers at top tier firm King & Wood Mallesons to investigate known incidents that occurred at Optiver that were never properly dealt with according to Mr Kruger.
Optiver’s lawyers refused to share the investigation report, refused to share the recording of the interview and claimed that all misconduct by Mr Smith was dealt with appropriately. All other allegations were conveniently described as not substantiated – despite not one named ex-employee being interviewed for the so-called “internal investigation”.
True Crime News Weekly sent a series of detailed questions to Optiver as well as its leadership group about the litany of serious claims alleged against the company. We failed to receive a response to any of our queries in relation to this investigation.
Speaking Out: Optiver’s former head of HR Business Partnering & Operations, Yan Kruger, who has made complaints to ASIC (Image: Supplied)
ASIC Refuses to Investigate
Mr Kruger and at least two other ex-employees have raised misconduct complaints against Optiver to ASIC, Australia’s national corporate regulator. This website has cited a number of ASIC’s responses which have shown a reticence to conduct any sort of investigation despite having the responsibility to monitor and investigate companies and their directors. All incidents described in this investigation (and more) are known by and continue to be seemingly covered up by directors of Optiver Pty Ltd, with ASIC’s refusal to investigate raising continued and significant questions about the effectiveness of the so-called regulator.
When True Crime News Weekly contacted ASIC in relation to its failure to act against Optiver, this publication also reminded the regulator that it had also failed to investigate notorious fraudster Melissa Caddick despite a number of reports about her suspicious and illegal activities right about the same time ASICs own now former chief, James Shipton, was engaging in his own major fraudulent activities.
“With all reports of misconduct that come to our attention, we will assess the available information to determine if further inquiries are warranted,” a spokesperson for ASIC said in response. “In general, for complaints to be progressed, they need to fall within ASIC’s jurisdiction. Employment complaints, for example, should be raised with Fair Work and would benefit from independent legal advice. Also, if the alleged misconduct is occurring offshore, that is also not within ASIC’s jurisdiction.”
When ASIC was informed that Optiver’s traders who engage in the Hong Kong market are all physically located in Sydney and that the company’s directors are in breach of their legal responsibilities if they are aware of, condone and cover up bullying, harassment and discrimination in Australia, the regulator went all quiet.
“We have nothing further to add,” the ASIC spokesperson said.
It has also since come to light this month that ASIC is relying on automated technology to “dismiss allegations of serious wrongdoing by company directors in as little as 38 seconds”, according to a recent news report in the Sydney Morning Herald. It’s likely the same technology has been used to benefit Optiver, with ASIC failing to even reach out to any real-life human beings who were listed as willing to provide pertinent facts to aid the complaints that had already been received.
Optiver’s Commitment to the Market
Optiver’s often quoted mission remains “We Improve the Market”. In reality it appears Optiver, and its management, are only interested in improving their profits, protecting known bullies and harassers and terminating anyone that dares speak up. Sources we spoke to about the company’s culture consistently described it as one of fear.
Only time will tell what legal action ex-employees may take against Optiver and how successful it will be in transforming the organisation to be about more than just the market and profits.