Great frauds in history: Gerard Lee Bevan’s dangerous debts

Gerard Lee Bevan bankrupted a stockbroker and an insurer, wiping out shareholders and partners alike.

Gerard Lee Bevan was born in London in 1869 and, after studying at Eton and Cambridge, took a job as a clerk at Barclay, Bevan, Tritton, Ransom & Bouverie (which later become Barclays bank). He was later a junior partner with stockbroker Ellis & Co in 1894. By 1912, he was effectively running the brokerage as its senior partner. In 1916 he bought a large stake in the City Equitable Fire Insurance Company from the notorious company promoter Clarence Hatry, becoming its chairman. He was also appointed director of several companies.

What was the scam?

Bevan’s appointment as chairman gave him control of the money that City Equitable received in premiums. Instead of putting it in low-risk assets, such as gilts (government bonds), which can easily be liquidated in order to pay out claims, he lent large sums to Ellis & Co, which was investing in various dubious schemes, including several companies floated by Hatry. City Equitable also directly invested in the same companies. In order to conceal these dubious loans and investments, Bevan manipulated the accounts and engaged in outright fraud to give the false impression that most of City Equitable’s money was still invested in gilts.

What happened next?

In the stockmarket boom following World War I, it briefly seemed like Bevan’s strategy would pay off. However, when the market started to collapse in 1920, many of the shares that Ellis had invested in plunged in value and it became obvious that Ellis couldn’t repay its loans. Many of the investments were also illiquid. As a result, City Equitable was unable to meet its insurance claims and was forced to declare bankruptcy in early 1921. After running away to the continent, Bevan was arrested, extradited, convicted of fraud and sentenced to jail for seven years, later dying in poverty in Cuba.

Lessons for investors

The £910,000 in loans to Ellis & Co (£40.2m in today’s money), combined with around £400,000 in dubious investments (£17.8m), resulted in the bankruptcy of both institutions, wiping out shareholders and Bevan’s partners alike. Bevan failed to appreciate the dangers of taking on too much leverage and the need for an appropriate degree of liquidity. Modern insurance companies do invest in shares (and even private equity), but they still have around three-quarters of their assets on average in bonds and cash.

Recommended

How to claim compensation for travel delays
Personal finance

How to claim compensation for travel delays

It promises to be a summer of chaos at airports, with thousands of flights cancelled and huge queues, while strikes on the railways haven't helped eit…
5 Jul 2022
Is it OK to buy Scottish Mortgage investment trust again?
Investment trusts

Is it OK to buy Scottish Mortgage investment trust again?

Scottish Mortgage investment was hit hard by the tech-stock crash, and it is still being buffeted by headwinds. Should new investors wait for those to…
5 Jul 2022
Britain’s ten most-hated shares – w/e 1 July
Stocks and shares

Britain’s ten most-hated shares – w/e 1 July

Rupert Hargreaves looks at Britain's ten most-hated shares, and what short-sellers are looking at now.
4 Jul 2022
Britain’s most-bought shares w/e 1 July
Stocks and shares

Britain’s most-bought shares w/e 1 July

A look at Britain’s most-bought shares in the week ending 1 July, providing an insight into how investors are thinking and where opportunities may lie…
4 Jul 2022

Most Popular

Ray Dalio’s shrewd $10bn bet on the collapse of European stocks
European stockmarkets

Ray Dalio’s shrewd $10bn bet on the collapse of European stocks

Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater hedge fund is putting its money on a collapse in European stocks. It’s likely to pay off, says Matthew Lynn.
3 Jul 2022
UK house prices are definitely cooling off – but are they heading for a fall?
House prices

UK house prices are definitely cooling off – but are they heading for a fall?

UK house prices hit a fresh high in June, but as interest rates start to rise, the market is cooling John Stepek assesses just how much of an effect h…
30 Jun 2022
Persimmon yields 12.3%, but can you trust the company to deliver?
Share tips

Persimmon yields 12.3%, but can you trust the company to deliver?

With a dividend yield of 12.3%, Persimmon looks like a highly attractive prospect for income investors. But that sort of yield can also indicate compa…
1 Jul 2022