You may recall Willy Wonka and his amazing Chocolate Factory as created by Roald Dahl and first personified on screen through Gene Wilder. In the story, five youngsters tour the Chocolate Factory and learn valuable life lessons along the way. Greedy Augustus Gloop plunges into the chocolate river while illicitly drinking from it. Violet Beauregard turns into a blueberry after persistently ignoring Wonka’s admonitions not to chew experimental gum. Veruca Salt demands more and demands it now; she proves herself a bad nut (in the book) and bad egg (in the movie) and is sent away. Mike Teevee tries Wonka’s untested TV and shrinks himself. Through it all, the hero, Charlie Bucket, conducts himself with good natured integrity, earns Wonka’s confidence, and is made Wonka’s heir to the Chocolate Factory.
Dahl fails to tell us how the story really ends, however. Before passing ownership of the factory to Charlie, Wonka sold out to a London-based leveraged buy-out firm. The firm promptly laid-off the Oompa Loompas (too many entitlements), developed a synthetic chocolate that was less dependent on cocoa prices, and moved manufacturing to locations with more flexible environmental regulations. Five years later, they led an IPO on the London Stock exchange and cashed out.
The transaction amazed Mr. Wonka. He had always considered candy to be a powerful way to promote happiness around the globe. After selling the business, he realized that the ideal product was not candy—it was financial services; thus, he launched WonkaBank.
WonkaBank epitomized the global financial services mega store. It was an investment bank, asset manager, broker-dealer, trust company, and commercial bank. It issued credit cards, raised capital, developed product, and sponsored golf tournaments. Wonka rehired the loyal Oompa Loompas, gave them a raise, and had them craft derivatives instead of candy. No one was sure who developed Wonka’s enticing financial products or how, but they were devoured as if they were everlasting gobstoppers.
Wonka sent five golden tickets to his old friends, Augustus, Violet, Veruca, Mike, and Charlie, inviting them to visit his new exclusive headquarters in the financial district. The five arrived early one morning. By noon, Augustus had overindulged, placing all of his liquid capital in a WonkaSafe variable annuity, the Wonka Mezzanine Private Equity Fund, and a principal protected WonkaNote that guaranteed Libor + 2% (assuming certain conditions were met). Unable to buy lunch, Augustus left.
Violet had invested a considerable sum in the WonkaJuice Leveraged Blueberry Futures Fund (with a one-year lock up), when she realized it was losing value quickly and wanted out. Apparently, she had not read the prospectus (silly girl!) and did not realize that one had to go forward in order to go back; thus, only Wonka could decide when (and if) to return capital to investors. Frustrated and poorer, Violet went off to find some chewing gum.
Veruca, now a member of Britain’s House of Commons, had been elected by voters who expected her to secure government funds for a new soccer stadium. Her district had 17% unemployment, was operating in the red, and could not afford traditional funding. Veruca pressed the WonkaBankers into a swap agreement that shifted liability of the stadium funding off the balance sheet until 2020. By then, Veruca figured, she would be either Prime Minister or working in Brussels. She raced off to hold a press conference before the tour was complete.
Meanwhile, Mike Teevee had discovered the WonkaLobbyists. They met Mondays in a special room filled with monitors, bloggers, PR specialists and the like. Mike loved the opaque glass conference room where WonkaLobbyists met with members of parliament, regulators, and government representatives who came through to raise, acquire, and shelter capital. Enticed, Mike signed on as a WonkaLobbyist without ever seeing the actual WonkaBank operations.
With the other guests gone, Charlie sat alone in Wonka’s office high over London. Wonka turned to Charlie and smiled. He said, “Charlie, I know you miss the Chocolate Factory. And we both know that you didn’t have the personality to be a WonkaTrader, WonkaBroker or WonkaLender. You have always been so sweet and kind, Charlie, nicer than the rest, more humble, more earnest. You care about people.”
Charlie was touched. Wonka continued, “Charlie, I am giving you the WonkaBank. All of it—the WonkaTraders and the WonkaLenders, the WonkaBankers and the WonkaLobbyists. Look out these windows Charlie. See those people below? They have WonkaFunds and WonkaPolicies, WonkaLoans and WonkaLines. The stores are kept alive by WonkaCredit and the roads are built by WonkaBonds. It’s amazing, Charlie. And it can all be yours, if you want it. And if you want it, then it will belong to your children as well, and to theirs. It’s all here in this Agreement.”
Charlie felt a gush of excitement. “Of course, I would love to run the WonkaBank! How can I thank you?? What do I do first?”
“Well,” said Wonka, “sign the Agreement. It grants full control and responsibility for WonkaBank to Charlie Bucket and his heirs.” Charlie eagerly signed it. Then he noticed another page stapled to the first with very small print. “What is this?” Charlie asked.
“Oh those are just those little things the attorneys include,” Wonka laughed. Charlie squinted and read the fine print aloud, “This Agreement hereby indemnifies Mr. Willie Wonka against any current or future liabilities from any Wonka product or service provided or implied from this date henceforth.” Charlie looked at Wonka. “Don’t worry, Charlie,” Wonka soothed, “it’s great fun, really. You’ll be a Master of the Universe.”
Charlie continued, “This Agreement holds that Charles Bucket takes full responsibility for deleveraging said WonkaBank and for any impact of said risk reduction including losses of jobs, shareholder value, and goodwill. Mr. Bucket will fulfill any and all obligations made to the Exchequer or other government officials and agencies.”
Charlie winced, then squinted harder. “What’s that last statement? I can’t read it at all.”
Wonka smiled, “Oh, nothing really, it’s just a simple statement about ensuring a smooth transition, respecting the financial value of talent, honoring market incentives, etcetera, etcetera. You know, guarantee of bonus and such. Don’t worry, the Board has approved it all.”
Charlie’s excitement had faded. “With all due respect, Mr. Wonka, I don’t want to own the WonkaBank. Candy I understand; I do not understand what you do here. No, Mr. Wonka, I cannot accept your offer.”
“Alas, Charlie,” Wonka said with a wink, “you already have accepted. You signed your name, Charlie. The WonkaBank is yours, this great and glorious empire. It will be with you for the rest of your days, and you will pass it to your children and to theirs. I know you are a person who honors his commitments, Charlie.” Charlie’s heart sunk.
Mr. Wonka picked up his hat, saluted the Oompa Loompas, and sauntered to the door, whistling a little ditty about the candy man.
The story could end here of course, but how satisfying would that be? Better to inform dear readers that Mr. Bucket did indeed deleverage the WonkaBank and did fulfill the Bank’s financial and regulatory responsibilities to the government. It was tough. First, Charlie dropped the “Wonka” name; it was just too toxic. Then, some of the more aggressive Oompa Loompas had to be let go, and the rest had to accept far lower compensation for their efforts. But a curious thing happened. While lower leverage, reduced risk taking and greater transparency initially dropped the Bank’s margins, consumers actually liked doing business with the Bank. Oddly enough, they told their friends and associates. You can only guess where that led.
While there is no such thing as a free golden ticket, Charlie did okay. He found himself singing the immortal words of Willie Wonka himself, “If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it. Anything you want to, do it. If you want to change the world, there’s nothing to it.”