Pyramid of Lies: The Collapse of Greensill Capital

Following our recent Lunch Money interview with Duncan Marvin, the author of the Pyramid of Lies, we explore the collapse of Greensill Capital.

The Ascent of Greensill Capital

Greensill Capital burst onto the financial scene, founded by Lex Greensill, a charismatic figure with a humble farming background. Within a short span, this supply chain finance firm became a multi-billion-dollar giant. Lex Greensill’s connections with British political royalty and his ability to portray himself as a visionary played a significant role in Greensill’s rapid rise. Headlines celebrated the company’s success, and Lex Greensill received accolades, including a Commander of the British Empire from Prince Charles.

The Promises and Complexities

At the core of Greensill’s pitch was the promise of low risk and above-normal returns. This promise resonated with investors who were eager to put their money into what seemed like a golden opportunity. However, beneath the surface, Greensill had deliberately layered its operations with complexity. Lex Greensill, a lawyer by training, obscured the inner workings of the firm with offshore funds and intricate financial instruments.

The Allure of Credibility

Greensill’s success story attracted numerous investors, including SoftBank, which invested billions after a relatively brief due diligence period. The presence of credible investors often leads others to lower their guard and trust in the opportunity, skipping critical due diligence processes. Investors, swayed by the success stories and personalities involved, are sometimes willing to invest without thoroughly understanding the complexity of the financial instruments.

Lessons from the Greensill Saga

The rise and fall of Greensill Capital offer several crucial lessons for both seasoned investors and newcomers in the finance industry:

  • Beware of Complexity: Financial products may be deliberately made complex to obscure risks. Always seek clarity and a thorough understanding of any investment.
  • Question Promises: Be cautious when confronted with promises of high returns with low risk. If it sounds too good to be true, it often is.
  • Credibility Isn’t Everything: The presence of reputable investors can be deceiving. Conduct your due diligence, regardless of the credibility of other investors.
  • Learn from History: Financial frauds and scandals have occurred throughout history. Be aware of past incidents and remain vigilant.
  • Admit Mistakes: If you’ve made an investment based on promises that later prove false, don’t hesitate to admit your mistake and take corrective action.


The rise and fall of Greensill Capital, led by Lex Greensill, serves as a cautionary tale in the world of finance. It reminds us that charisma and promises can sometimes mask the complexity and risks of financial instruments. As investors and finance professionals, it is our responsibility to remain vigilant, seek transparency, and learn from the lessons of history to avoid falling victim to similar schemes in the future.

Video Summary

06:34 Risks in Finance and Promised Returns

The speaker emphasizes the challenge of delivering promised returns in the finance industry, particularly when offering low-risk, above-normal returns. He discusses how some financial firms struggle to find deals that match their risk profile, often leading to compromises or misrepresentations.

10:16 Complexity and Personalities in Finance

The author, speaking with the guest, delves into the complexity of financial schemes like Green Cell Capital. He suggests that simplifying complex financial concepts can make them more accessible to readers. Additionally, they touch upon the charismatic personalities of financial figures and how some individuals are drawn into their narratives.

13:49 Historical Financial Frauds

The discussion turns to historical financial frauds, with the author recalling instances where fraudulent schemes duped investors. These stories serve as cautionary tales, highlighting the need for due diligence and scepticism in the financial industry.

17:38 Ethics and Morality

Lex’s business practices repeatedly raise questions about ethics and morality. Does he start with good intentions and gradually go astray, or does he knowingly engage in wrongdoing from the beginning?

22:32 Building Influential Relationships

Lex’s ability to network and build relationships with influential figures like David Cameron played a crucial role in his financial endeavours. These connections allowed him to access resources and opportunities that others couldn’t.

27:39 A fintech company

Lex’s desire to be seen as a fintech company reflects a broader trend in the financial industry. Many businesses adopt the label of ‘fintech’ to appear more innovative and attract higher valuations, even if their operations are far from tech-driven.

37:52 Supply Chain Finance Challenges

Supply chain finance, though a legitimate industry, has been applied in ways that negatively impact small businesses. Large corporations use these programs to extend payment terms to suppliers, often forcing them into unfavourable conditions. Transparency in accounting rules has improved, but challenges persist.

42:56 Writing About Financial Scandals

The author, as a financial journalist, aims to shed light on financial scandals to help prevent similar issues in the future. They see these stories as essential for highlighting problems with the human condition. The discussion concludes with the idea of turning such stories, like the Lex Greensill case, into a musical or movie.


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