How Wirecard went from analyst darling to a $2.2 billion accounting scandal — and cost SoftBank hundreds of millions in the process
Wirecard, one of Europe's leading financial technology companies, is at the heart of one of the region's biggest corporate accounting scandals in recent years.
- The company's shares have plunged over 80% since it told auditors that it could not trace €1.9 billion, or about $2 billion, in its financial accounts.
- The firm's chief executive resigned last week, and he was arrested on Monday night.
- The tech investing giant
SoftBankstands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars because of the scandal.
- Business Insider rounded up a timeline of events that led to the scandal surrounding the once valuable
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Wirecard AG, a German payments processor, was once touted as a darling among analysts and investors for its growth story: It went from a minor player to one of
But in mid-June, after scrapping its financial results for the fourth time and saying that €1.9 billion, or about $2 billion, that went missing from its balance sheet probably didn't actually exist, Wirecard came under intense scrutiny, leading to the resignation and eventual arrest of its CEO.
Wirecard, simply put, has had a week from hell.
Here's what you need to know about the downfall of the German tech industry's star
Wirecard, based in Munich, is a global supplier of financial solutions for mobile payments, e-commerce, digitization, and financial technology. As of 2018, Wirecard said it collaborated with over 250,000 companies, including Allianz, Qatar Airways, KLM, Transport for London, and many other household names.
The firm was once the darling of Germany's fintech world as it outgrew competitors. It reported net revenue of €2.1 billion in 2018 and eventually ascended to the
In September 2018, Germany's second-largest lender, Commerzbank AG, was dropped from the DAX. It lost its status as a German blue-chip company to be replaced by Wirecard. At the time, Wirecard boasted of €22.5 billion in market capitalization, more than twice that of Commerzbank.
Wirecard has long been the subject of criticism; Reuters this week described it as subject to "repeated allegations from whistleblowers, journalists and speculators that its revenue and profits had been pumped up through fake transactions with obscure partners."
The Financial Times, which began an investigation in 2019, has reported on many of the recent allegations against Wirecard, including of improper accounting conduct in Asia and the Middle East.
Wirecard has frequently denied the allegations in the Financial Times' reports and accused the newspaper of reporting on fake documents and information.
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The company's scandal came to a head last week, however, when it failed — for the fourth time — to report its full-year 2019 results.
Here's a brief timeline of the past week for Wirecard:
- On June 18, Wirecard was scheduled to report its full-year 2019 and first-quarter 2020 results, an announcement that had already been delayed three times. But it said its auditor, EY, didn't give it the go-ahead as it could not find "sufficient audit evidence" of €1.9 billion in the firm's balance sheet.
- The company said that if its financial results were not disclosed by the next day, June 19, about €2 billion worth of loans made to Wirecard could be terminated.
- On June 19, Wirecard's CEO and largest shareholder, Markus Braun, resigned in "mutual consent" with the board after serving for nearly two decades. James Freis was appointed as the interim CEO.
- On June 22, Wirecard said the missing €1.9 billion likely did not exist and withdrew an assessment of its financial results. Its shares crashed as much as 46% in one day.
- On the same day, the firm's chief operating officer and Braun's close ally, Jan Marsalek, was removed.
- Freis then reportedly told employees to expect a major restructuring that could involve a sale of assets to safeguard company interests.
- On June 23, Braun turned himself in and was arrested by the police in Munich on charges related to market manipulation and false data.
- He was released on €5 million bail, but prosecutors said he would have to report to the police on a weekly basis.
Wirecard's plummeting stock price has erased millions of dollars in profits for a group of SoftBank executives and an Abu Dhabi fund that invested in a complex $1 billion trade on the company's stock.
In April 2019, SoftBank Investment Advisors, which manages the group's $100 billion Vision Fund, structured a roughly $1 billion investment in Wirecard through a convertible bond, a type of debt that can be repaid in stock instead of cash, according to the Financial Times.
The fund is now set to lose out on hundreds of millions in profits that it might've reaped from the Wirecard trade, according to the report.
Carmen Reinicke contributed to this report.
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