Frank and Beancounters

Charlie Javice was a celebrated tech founder who got coverage for her financial aid startup called Frank. Now she’s getting a whole lot more coverage because she’s facing criminal charges for financial fraud (these cases seem to be going around these days). “The DOJ and the Securities and Exchange Commission both filed lawsuits against Javice … According to the DOJ’s lawsuit, Javice ‘falsely and dramatically’ inflated the number of customers Frank had in order to induce JPMorgan, one of the world’s biggest banks, to buy the company. Javice allegedly claimed that the startup had 4.25 million customers, but in reality, Frank had only about 300,000 clients, according to the lawsuit. Javice stood to gain more than $45 million from the fraud, the DOJ said.”

What I find most intriguing about this story is that JPMorgan paid $175 million (admittedly, not a large number for a big bank) for a company that, in reality, was worth much less. Don’t we follow the stock purchasing advice of analysts at banks like JPMorgan where they supposedly research companies and know more than the average investor about what to buy and sell? And yet, the bank couldn’t even see the fraud of a company with books to which they had full access. Over the past few weeks, several investment advisory groups have jumped shipped from First Republic Bank. I get it. The bank is struggling and losing some big customers. But here’s what I keep wondering. If you’re a financial analyst making strategic decisions for deep-pocketed clients, shouldn’t you have some inkling that your own company is sucking wind? If you are unaware of the headwinds facing the company to which you have the most inside access, why should clients trust you to analyze other public companies? These are the same folks who issue downgrades on regional banks after the shocking news that led to several bank runs. Uh, thanks?

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