By Amelia Isaacs on Monday 13 June 2022
A review of Financial Times journalist Dan McCrum’s whirlwind new book Money Men.
In fintech circles, the story of Wirecard really needs no introduction.
The tale is infamous: a hot start-up, a billion-dollar fraud and a fight for the truth, as Financial Times investigative journalist Dan McCrum so succinctly puts it in the subtitle of his new book, Money Men.
With McCrum at the epicentre of Wirecard’s downfall in 2019-20, you would only get a more detailed, thorough account of the whole story if it were written by the disgraced CEO Markus Braun and COO Jan Marsalek themselves.
Given the tale of Wirecard’s demise is vast enough to fill McCrum’s 300-page book, stacked with a list of characters and a full index, it would do Money Men a disservice to try to summarise it in an 800-word review.
What I will endeavour to do, is give you a flavour of a few of the many stories McCrum lifts the curtain on in his retelling.
Because let’s face it, we all want to hear about the reluctant whistleblower’s mother who emailed McCrum directly, the threatening thugs appearing at the school drop-off and the bizarre array of characters that fill every twist and turn.
From London to Munich, Dublin to Singapore, and Manila to Vienna, there is almost no corner of the world left unvisited in this sprawling account.
But, for as many places as McCrum travels to, there are even more eccentric characters waiting for him there.
(Helpfully, there is quite literally a cast of characters that McCrum prefaces the book with, laying out the many spies, short-sellers and ‘bandits’ involved. I will say that without this handy key I would have found myself more than a bit lost at times.)
When the book begins, opening all the way back in 2003, we are almost immediately introduced to a number of important players in the Wirecard game.
One of my favourites is Pav Gill. Or, more specifically, Gill’s mother.
Gill is a new lawyer on Wirecard’s Asian legal counsel in Singapore and “before anything else, a product of his mother’s determination”, who soon spotted wrongdoing at the company.
After finding out a bit more than he should have, alongside fellow newcomer Royston Ng, Gill quietly left Wirecard.
But while Gill searched for jobs, his mother did not take the presence of criminals and wrongdoing at Wirecard lying down.
Not only did she get in touch with a number of journalists, including McCrum, without her son knowing, but she even showed up to their first meeting.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Gill and his mother are moments of the book that feel fast-paced and verging on thriller territory. These secret meetings, wires and scandalous lunches are when Money Men moves fastest.
FT Alphaville founder Paul Murphy entering into a clandestine meeting with Wirecard COO Jan Marsalek, desperately texting his backup team after the rendezvous is moved to a different restaurant at the last minute, is one of those moments.
Similarly, a Wirecard critic being confronted by two thugs in a supermarket car park after dropping off his daughter at school, and being given a choice of broken legs or £100,000 to reveal his co-conspirators is another almost unbelievable moment.
It verges on the unreal hearing about the meetings that took place between Wirecard and the FT and the lengths the company went to stop them from publishing.
Some of the best parts of this book are when McCrum dives deep into the journalistic aspects of his investigation.
The book toggles between two stories: what was actually happening with Wirecard at the time, and the parallel investigation being undertaken by McCrum and the FT.
It’s the passages where we see McCrum sitting in his car scared, or lifting his daughter with glee as he tells her that the bad guys are going to jail, which are the most poignant — I only wished there were more of them.
This behind-the-scenes look into the years of work and the persistence that was required to topple Wirecard is nothing short of incredible.
If you’re coming to Money Men for a thorough and in-depth deep dive into a story you followed in 2019-20, then this is everything you could ask for and more.
Every aspect of the story is covered in-depth, from 2003 all the way through the pandemic to today.
On the other hand, if you’re coming to Money Men from scratch, looking for a quick introduction to a wild story, then your best bet is probably to start off with McCrum’s original journalism and then come back to the book.
It will still be waiting for you with an eccentric cast of characters, unbelievable stories and a peek behind the FT curtain when you’re ready.