Inside Goldman Sachs’ email surveillance plan

A leaked document has revealed 180 flagged phrases the finance firm keeps a watch on to ensure staff compliance and tackle insider trading

Details of Goldman Sachs’ automated email surveillance program have been revealed, providing an insight into how the financial giant keeps tabs on employee communications.
 
CNBC obtained a full list of phrases that the compliance department flags for specific scrutiny. While this is an automated process, human staff later review the flagged emails and determine whether they signify a problem.
 
The document itself was supplied by an anonymous source and contains 180 phrases flagged as potentially dangerous. While it was written in 2008 – and Goldman Sachs has updated its terminology since then – it still offers a glimpse of how the big financial corporations track staff to ensure compliance.
 
“We deploy cutting-edge technology and exercise the utmost care to protect confidential information, secure data and provide high-end client service,” a spokeswoman for Goldman Sachs told CNBC. “The firm’s monitoring efforts reflect our commitment to upholding the highest standards of professionalism and integrity.”
 
Attorneys for Goldman Sachs described the document as “a lexicon of terms and phrases used by the firm’s compliance department for surveillance of the electronic mail of certain employees”.
 
One banking industry expert told CNBC that email monitoring was common in the financial sector.
 
“It’s not just email, it’s about using key words to monitor social media as well. What the institution is trying to do is to flag activities that may be illegal or may represent insider trading.”
 
Employees from Goldman Sachs told the news outlet they were told beforehand that their emails were being watched. The system also warned staff if an email contained a swear word with the individual having to click a box showing they are aware of the expletive before the email can be sent.
 
Examples of flagged phrases on the list include:
  • don’t worry I’ll take care of it
  • don’t you f***ing understand
  • embezzled the account
  • found numerous/several errors/mistakes
  • give you a piece of the/my commission
  • I’ll/I will work it out
  • I/Goldman Sachs/the firm/we will make up the losses
  • paying fees through the nose/a**/butt
  • split the difference
  • supposed to be the top/best financial company
  • you must/have to buy this stock
The number of obscenity-linked phrases within the list was quite large with eight phrases using the f-word alone. This could mean the system flags a large number of emails, the banking expert said.
 
“You’re probably going to get a variety of false f-bomb positives that you don't want to explore any further.”
 
Given the list though, it is clear that employees were being watched for specific types of concerning behaviour – argumentative conversations, disputes over finances or certain general communications containing expletives.
 
Related stories:
 
Can HR rein in rogue bankers?
 
Can you legally monitor your employees’ emails?
 
Cyber-crime: what you need to know

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