By Oliver Smith on Tuesday 20 September 2022
Netflix’s documentary is a gem for true crime enthusiasts and fintech industry insiders alike.
Stories of financial crime are not easy to pull off, especially on film, where the mention of ‘short selling’ or an attempt to explain ‘inflation’ risk turning off even the most engaged audience.
Big Hollywood blockbusters that have pulled this off—from Leo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort in The Wolf Of Wall Street to Matt Damon talking us through the financial crisis in 2010’s Inside Job—are very much an exception to the superhero, action and romance flicks that typically rule cinemas.
But there is a point just 10 minutes into Skandal! Bringing Down Wirecard, when I realised Netflix’s new documentary isn’t only the best retelling of Wirecard’s complicated demise yet, it’s also a tremendous financial crime movie.
A quick recap for those new to the story.
Wirecard was the golden child of the European fintech community in the 2010s, held up as Germany’s answer to PayPal. The only catch was that its executives—Braun and COO Jan Marsalek—were engaged in fraudulent financial reporting on an epic scale, leading to a €1.9bn hole in the company’s accounts and its eventual collapse in 2020.
For keen fintech industry followers, Skandal! could be the third time you’ve been led through the infamous tale of secret meetings, money laundering and high-flying fintechs.
But, even if you closely followed the Financial Times’ original reporting spanning 90+ articles between 2015-2020 or read FT journalist Dan McCrum’s inside account last year in his book Money Men: A Hot Start-up, A Billion Dollar Fraud, A Fight for the Truth, this new Netflix documentary offers something unique.
That’s because the jet-setting tale of McCrum’s reporting was made for Netflix. An investigation that leaps between Singapore, London, Berlin, New York, Cannes and even Libya, brought to life by director James Erskine.
As the story jumps from Berlin back to London, we hear the first phone call between McCrum and the then CEO of Wirecard, Markus Braun—the ”Steve Jobs of the Alps” donning his signature all-black attire.
McCrum puts to Braun that Wirecard’s shady Asian acquisitions are being used to hide something. Braun comes back with his signature brash confidence, dismissing McCrum’s suggestions as “all bullshit”.
Throughout the 90 minutes, Netflix plays to its advantage of being able to show, not just tell, and the tale is full of original audio recordings, archive video footage, new interviews with many key players, and glossy cartoon montages that help Skandal! avoid endless talking heads.
A colourful cast of characters moves the story along at pace. From the cheeky Cannes-based British ex-pat Nick Gold (“a bad investor, but an investor”) to the East London father and son duo of Gary and Tom Kilbey, who seem ripped straight from a Guy Ritchie script.
Last year we called McCrum’s Money Men a “very deep dive into the madness and mayhem”. We recommended it as an excellent read for those already comfortable with the Wirecard story.
While based on that book, Skandal! Bringing Down Wirecard is something altogether different.
It’s both a safe introduction to “fintech” for the Netflix true-crime generation who’ll find the story engaging, and a full-colour retelling for industry insiders to finally see (and not just read) the tale of Wirecard’s demise.
Skandal! Bringing Down Wirecard is available on Netflix now.