You won’t believe what gets an email flagged at Goldman: CNBC has the list

Bankers at Goldman Sachs might want to think twice before sending an email calling any trade “a sure bet.” They may want to pause before they send a note saying someone “embezzled the account.”

And they probably don’t want to send an email using any one of 13 separate phrases that include the F-word.

That’s because Goldman Sachs’ compliance department conducts surveillance of employees’ email. It’s an automated process: Software monitors the emails for certain phrases that are flagged for specific scrutiny. Human employees at Goldman then review the flagged emails and decide whether they represent a problem.

CNBC has obtained a document detailing more than 180 phrases flagged for scrutiny by the monitoring system. The document was produced in 2008, and the firm has updated its search terminology since then. But the list gives a rare peek inside a large bank’s real-time compliance surveillance operation, and reveals details of how that process works that even veteran Wall Street executives may not know.

Attorneys for Goldman described the confidential document as “a lexicon of terms and phrases used by the Firm’s Compliance department for surveillance of the electronic mail of certain employees.” The source who provided the document asked not to be named.

Monitoring employee email is not necessarily nefarious. Banks typically do it to detect any early indicators of fraud. In fact, the Securities and Exchange Commission expects that banks’ policies and procedures will include monitoring emails. But the SEC has no specific rules or requirements as to the search terms banks use to do that.

A banking industry expert said technological monitoring of employees is increasingly common in the financial industry. “It’s not just email, it’s about using key words to monitor social media as well,” the expert said. “What the institution is trying to do is to flag activities that may be illegal or may represent insider trading.”

Examining the list, it seems clear that Goldman was looking for specific areas of concern: tense exchanges between bankers and their customers, disputes over commissions and money, or certain phrases involving obscenities.

Today, Goldman’s communications monitoring is more extensive than it was in 2008 and encompasses communications technologies beyond email. And rules about profanity in email have tightened. Goldman employees say the email system automatically pops up a window if a user attempts to send an email containing a bad word. The sender must click a box to demonstrate that he or she is aware of the expletive and approves sending it before the offending email will go through. Goldman’s employees are told their electronic communications will be watched.

“We deploy cutting-edge technology and exercise the utmost care to protect confidential information, secure data and provide high-end client service,” said a spokeswoman for Goldman Sachs. “The firm’s monitoring efforts reflect our commitment to upholding the highest standards of professionalism and integrity.”

The Goldman Sachs list was formatted in such a way as to capture phrases with different configurations that produce the same meaning, with word options for each phrase separated by brackets or lines. For example, one search term is: “I didn’t {authorize}|{agree}.” Presumably, that search term would capture anyone writing the phrase “I didn’t authorize,” or “I didn’t agree,” both of which might indicate some sort of dispute.

Goldman Sachs also monitored for email about calling financial regulators or organizations, including the SEC, NASD and New York Stock Exchange. One phrase that would be flagged: “Call the SEC.” And the system watched for “20549,” which is the ZIP code for SEC headquarters.

In places, the list reads like a thesaurus for synonyms for the entire range of emotions a banker or client could experience in the workplace. The longest search phrase on the list is this:
“I {was|am} extremely[?]{pissed|angry|concerned|upset|agitated|bothered|distressed|

Among the phrases flagged are seemingly innocuous phrases of daily office life: “answer your phone,” “don’t worry I’ll take care of it” and “I don’t understand.” Also to be scrutinized were “I’ve been trying to reach you,” and even “still have not received.”

There are a number of phrases linked to stock trading on the list: “Time to dump,” “break the trade” and “stock will fly/soar/dive/tank.”

And there are several phrases that might indicate a dispute with a customer, including “not made aware,” “I trusted you” and “I told you days/weeks/months ago.” And particularly, “paying fees through/thru the nose/a–/butt.

Some of the phrases could be indicators of possible fraud, including “adjust your account,” or “clowns managing/running the fund/show/portfolio/account/my money.”

And no list like this would be complete without the myriad inventive ways bankers find to use of the F-word, including: “don’t you f—ing understand,” “mad/angry/frustrated as hell/f—,” “Screw/f— it up,” “way to f—ing much,” “what I f—ing said,” “where the f—/hell are you,” “who the heck/f—/hell do you think you are,” and “don’t you f—ing understand.”

That obscenity list, the banking industry expert said, could flag a large number of emails. “You’re probably going to get a variety of false F-bomb positives that you don’t want to explore any further,” the expert said.

Does all this electronic monitoring actually work? It’s hard to say. Despite the electronic snooping, it seems that some problems manage to crop up time after time.

One phrase the Goldman software searched for: “How could this happen again?”

Read Goldman’s list:

a sure {bet}|{thing}

adjust your account|losses|profits

against my expressed[?] wishes

answer {your}|{the} %ANY%[0\,3] phone

are {not responsive}|unresponsive

bad to worse

charge in excessive amount

charged {too much}|{excessively}

close|end|terminate my %ANY% [1\,5] relationship with GS|Goldman|{this firm}

Clowns {managing|running} the fund|show|portfolio|account|{my money}

concern* %ANY% [1\,5] safety of my money|fund|account

cover {your}|{our} losses

didn’t authorize the sale

didn’t|didnt|{did not} explain to me|us

disturbs|troubles me|us

don’t worry i’ll take care of it

don’t you f*cking understand

done|{did this} without %ANY% [1\,5] calling|emailing|contacting me|us|anyone

embezzled the account

extremely|really|quite|very unhappy|disappointed

failed to execute {our}|{my}instructions

fix the {trade}|{trades}|{commissions}

fix|adjust|change the trade*|commission*

formally|formal complain|complaint

found numerous|several errors|mistakes

give you a piece of {the}|{my} commission

how could this happen again[?]

How could you|GS|Goldman possibly[?] lose so|this|that much

I %ANY% [0\,4] {losing}|{lost} patience with {you}|{GS}|{Goldman}

I am not a happy camper

I didn’t {authorize}|{agree}

I expect {a|an|your}[?] {answer*|response} {today|now|asap}

I|we have lost|{run out of}|{ran out of} confidence|faith|trust|patience

I have raised %ANY% [1\,5] at least %ANY%[1\,3] times

I have raised %ANY% [1\,5] so many times

I lost {exorbitant|enormous amounts of}|{so|too much} money

I told you %ANY% {days|weeks|months} ago

I told you %ANY%[0\,1] {days|weeks|months} ago

i want the %ANY%[0\,2] trade reversed

I wanted out of %ANY%[3] {stock | {hedge fund} | fund | account | position}

I won’t|wont|{will not} pay for the|this trade

I {don’t}|{dont}|{do not} understand

I {trusted}|{believed in}|{had faith in} you

“I {was|am} extremely[?]{pissed|angry|concerned|upset|agitated|bothered|distressed|
I {would appreciate}|want {a|an} {call|email}

if this {doesn’t} | {does not} get resolved|fixed soon|immediately|{right now}

incompetent|inept fund|account management

increasingly|really getting[?] frustrated

it is your | goldmans | {goldman’s} job to make sure

I|we demand

I|we will not pay

lack of care|attention %ANY% [1\,5] my money|account*|fund*

let me remind you

losing confidence|faith|trust|patience

mad|angry|frustrated as hell|f*ck

make it up to you

my repeated {requests}|{request}

no longer be doing business

No one {called|emailed|contacted}

no one {{gave you}|{had} permission}|{said you could}

not %ANY%[0\,1] reasonable

not even one phone[?] {call} | {email} | {word} from {you | goldman}

not made aware

not {heard {back[?]} from you}|{what we agreed}

Paying fees {through|thru} the {nose|a–|butt}

phone {calls}|{call}e-mail{have}|{has} not been answered

piece of sh*t

pissed|pisses me off

poor|terrible|crappy {fund|account|portfolio}[?] results|performance

really %ANY%[0\,2] pissed|{PO’d}

rebate|refund my|your loss*

rebate|refund what I lost

register that|this as a complaint

remedy the situation

report the matter to the {sec}|{nasd}|{nyse}

reverse the commissions

reverse {this}|{the} %ANY%[0\,5] {trade}|{transaction}

screw*|f*ck* it up

so frustrat*

something {went}|{is really}|{will go} wrong

split the difference

statement complaint

still have not received

stock will {fly}|{soar}|{dive}|{tank}

supposed to be the top|best financial company

surprised|concerned|frustrated|angry that you didn’t|{did not} contact|call|email me

take care of any fees|commissions

taken advantage of {{the exemption in Financial Reporting Standard} | {the following exemptions on the first time adoption} | {any of the relaxed hedge accounting requirements} | {passport\\, this will still be subject to}úLSE%}[?]

That’s not what I {said}|{told you}

the {deal | account | fund | trade | trades} {was | were} not handled properly

there is a %ANY%[0\,3] problem

there is|are|{appears to be} a|several mistake*

there was an|a error|mistake

These managers give me a really[?] bad feeling

this is %ANY%[0\,5] totally[?] unacceptable|{not acceptable}

this is not fair

this won’t|{will not} happen again

this {is not}|isn’t|wasn’t|{was not} the %ANY% amount|{correct price}|price|stock|{correct stock}

This {part of the}[?] portfolio is[?] completely[?] sucks|stinks|f*cked up|{messed up}

time to dump

trades could|should be cancelled|reversed

transfer my {account}|{funds}immediately

troubles|disturbs|{disturbing to} me how long follow-up has taken

undo|break the trade

way too f*cking much

what happened to %ANY%[0\,5] money

What happened to my {money}|{account}|{trade}|{funds}?

what i f*cking said

what the hell|f*ck|heck {are|is} {you|GS|Goldman} doing with my|this|the {money|account|trade|funds|savings|portfolio}

what the {f*ck}|{hell}|{heck} {happened}|{is going on}|{is happening} with|to my|the|this {account|money|trade|fund*|savings|portfolio

Where did my {money}|{funds}|{account} go

where the {f*ck}|{hell} are you

who can I escalate the|this matter|issue|problem

who the {f*ck}|{hell}|{heck} said you could

who the {heck}|{f*ck}|{hell} do you think you are

who {supervises}|{manages} you

why should I|we pay

why {haven’t}|{didn’t} you {return}|{returned} my {call}|{calls}

won’t be doing business with you|GS|Goldman

worst investment

wrong amount|price|{number of shares}|stock

You didn’t follow my {instructions}|{wishes}|{plans}|{objectives}

You didn’t {tell me}|{say} that

You never {told me}|{said} that

you said you would {redeem|sell}

You stole from {me}|{my account}

you told me there {was no}|{wasnt any}|{wasn’t any} {downside risk}|{risk involved}

you were not up front

you werent|weren’t|{were not} authorized

you {didn’t}|{did not} | {didnt} {%ANY%[?] listen}|{supervise}

you {didn’t}|{did not}|{didn’t} {answer the question} | {reply}

you {f*cked}|{messed}|{screwed} up

you {have to}|{must} buy this stock

your|Goldman’s failure to comply|respond

you|GS|Goldman failed to comply|respond

{Call the SEC} {%precededby% {{Please. 20549}|{Please. D.C.}úLSE%}[?] } | {{{at 1-800-sec-0330} úlse%}[?]}

{contact}|{call the} {appropriate[*]} {authorities}|{regulators}|{nasd}|{nyse}|{sec}

{did not}|{didnt}|{didn’t} have permission to {buy}|{sell}|{trade}|{exchange}

{do not}|don’t have the confidence|faith|trust|patience to continue

{does not}|doesn’t|don’t respond|reply to my calls|emails

{don’t}|{dont}worry about the losses

{have|has} not received {the paperwork} | {any calls}

{I am}|I’m {%ANY%[0\,2]} {pissed off}|furious|irate|livid|incensed|upset|angry

{I am}|I’m|Im {not satisfied}|unsatisfied|dissatisfied

{i promise this time}|{this time i promise}

{i’ll}|{I will} fix {everything}|{it}

{i’ll}|{I will} work it out

{i’ve been trying}|{i’ve tried} to reach you

{i’ve}|{I have} been {unable}|{unsuccessful}trying to reach you

{i’ve}|{I have} contacted {my}|{an}|{your} attorney

{It’s|it is} %ANY%[0\,2] impossible to understand what|{what is} {{going on}|happened|occurred}

{I}|{Goldman Sachs}|{the firm}|{we} will make up the losses

{I}|{Goldman Sachs}|{the firm}|{we} {guarantee*}|{promis*}|{swear*} that[?] this won’t|{will not}|{will never} happen again

{I}|{we} will sue {you}|{your firm}|{Goldman}|{GS}

{I}|{we} will take you to court


{regarding}|{concerning} your problem

{should have}|should’ve been bought|sold|done %ANY% [1\,5] ago

{transactions}|{transaction}|{trade} {was}|{were} never executed

{transfer|sale} still {hasn’t}|{has not} {happened|occurred}

{where have you been}|{where the {f*ck}|{hell}|{heck} have you been}

{who is}|{i want the name of} your {supervisor}|{manager}

{you’re}|{you are} a piece of sh*t

{your|these}{behavior|actions} are %ANY%[0\,1] {unacceptable|{not acceptable}}

{You}|{Goldman Sachs}|{the firm} were|was not authorized

{you}|{Goldman Sachs}|{your firm} personally guaranteed

{you}|{Goldman Sachs}|{your firm} will be hearing from my {attorney}|{lawyer}

{you}|{Goldman Sachs}|{your firm} {messed}|{screwed} up

{you}|{Goldman Sachs}|{your firm} {won’t}|{will not} get away with this

{mistake|error} on {your|GS|Goldman*} part

receiv* a|any|no response to my {email}|{call}|{inquir*}|{question*}|{complaint*}

{I}|{we} {did not}|{did’nt}|{didnt} receive|get a response

negatively affected by this|these %ANY%[0\,5] change*|error*|mistake*

{please let me}|{allow me to} address your {concerns}|{confusion}|{problem}

missing money|funds

{not happy}|unhappy|dissatisfied with the {way}|{manner} in which this is being handled|addressed|resolved

not happy|satisfied|content with the way GS|Goldman|you is|are handling|resolving|addressing this

GS|Goldman is really upsetting|frustrating me

{I don’t think this is}|{this is not}|{this isn’t} the type of customer service I deserve|expect*

avoid this kind|type of error|mistake|fumble|misstep|slipup|{foul up}|stumble

{please let me}|{allow me to} provide %ANY%[0\\,5] a|an reason|explanation

{I have}|{i’ve} been {unhappy}|{displeased}|{unsatisfied} with the {firm’s attitude}|{attitude of the firm}

I am {unhappy}|{displeased}|{unsatisfied} with the {firm’s attitude}|{attitude of the firm}

{I have}|{I’ve} found the {direction|attitude} of the firm {troubling|worrisome|disturbing|concerning|demoralizing|aggravating|perturbing|distressing|discomforting|disconcerting|demoralizing}

{I|we} find the {direction|attitude} of the firm {troubling|worrisome|disturbing|concerning|demoralizing|aggravating|perturbing|distressing|discomforting|disconcerting|demoralizing}

{my|our} {low|unsavory} view of {GS|goldman|{the firm}}

Not For[?] Communicat*|Distribut*|send*|delive* Outside %any%[\,2] Firm|GS|{goldman sachs}|goldman

for internal use in the offices of

internal only

internal u.s.e. only

{internal use only} { {%precededby% { {private|your | { for and confidential deemed is message this in } }úlse%}} | {{%any%[\\,2] {to be completed by} | {checking account number} }úlse%} | {%any%[0\\,5] SMARTPlus}úlse% }[?]

{social security}|{soc sec}|soc|ss{{no|number|#}[*]}%#\d\d\d\p\d\d\p\d\d\d\d%


— CNBC’s Mark Fahey contributed to this report.

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