I was watching the TV show "White Collar" (episode: Forging Bonds).

Neal Caffrey is a bond forger.
Neal is planning to steal money from a rich man named Adler.
Neal needs some money to meet Adler, so he cashes bonds that he forged.
This catches the attention of FBI agent Peter Burke.

Below is a conversation between Neal and Peter.

Neal: Cashing those bonds was a calculated risk. But it was worth it for the con we were about to run on Adler.

Peter: Yeah, but bankrolling them got us our first visual on you.

Does "bankroll" mean "cash" in the above sentence?

According to my dictionary, "bankroll" means "finance" as a verb. But I am not sure if this applies to the above conversation.

Note: The episode's transcript can be found at:

3 Answers 3


It does mean finance; it does not mean cash.

The pair are talking about a case where they were adversaries. Neal's forgeries had already been caught, so whenever they were used, the FBI would notice; specifically, Peter.

In order for Peter to "get a visual on" Neal, he needed to allow the forgeries to be accepted as real bonds, so the FBI put up the money that cashing the bonds would have generated if they hadn't been detected as forgeries, i.e. they bankrolled the bonds.

  • This smacks of truth. I had to re-read it to understand what you meant, though: very importantly, this reinterprets the subject of bankrolling, which I didn’t catch the first time I read it. Paraphrasing Peter’s statement: “Yeah, but the fact that we bankrolled [the bonds] got us our first visual on you”; not (as both the asker and I had read it) “The fact that you bankrolled the bonds”. Nov 25, 2014 at 11:21
  • No, I think that peter is telling neil that his choice to bankroll adler, in order to run a con on him, was the choice that allowed peter and the fbi to get their first visual of neil. In essence hes telling neil that it WASN'T worth it, since it led to peter catching neil, eventually.
    – Ron Kyle
    Nov 25, 2014 at 12:25
  • @RonKyle Neither of them bankroll Adler. Adler is very wealthy. Nov 25, 2014 at 12:54
  • Hmm, well then I think peters character is apparently not an english major :)
    – Ron Kyle
    Nov 25, 2014 at 12:56

The Urban Dictionary (not necessarily a valid source, but in this case maybe still so) gives this possible meaning for bankrolling something:

an acquisition of a large sum of money from various means

As the use in a TV show is basically spoken language and might well include slang words, this could be a very possible option.

  • But that is a definition for bank roll, a noun phrase, not the verb bankroll. Nov 25, 2014 at 11:23
  • to bankroll would then be basically "to acquire a large sum of money from various means"
    – skymningen
    Nov 25, 2014 at 14:17
  • But as in @Matt's answer, that isn't what it means: it means to finance something, rather than to acquire money. Nov 25, 2014 at 14:41

I think it is used with the meaning you are are suggesting, implying that the financing and setting up the whole operations of forging bonds had attracted the attention of the police even before he could cash them.


verb (used with object)

  • Informal. to finance; provide funds for: to bankroll a new play.

( from dictionary.reference.com)

  • That doesn’t really seem to fit the context very well, though. The agent clearly says that bankrolling the bonds gave the FBI their first visual on Caffrey, alluding to the fact that Agent Burke actually saw and spoke to Neal at the bank when Neal had cashed the bonds. Nov 25, 2014 at 10:57
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - so what does bankroll mean in your opinion?
    – user66974
    Nov 25, 2014 at 11:02
  • Having read more of the transcript and re-read Matt’s answer, I’m convinced he’s got the right of it. Nov 25, 2014 at 11:17

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