Report: Ethics of Banking

First off, it’s a shame we didn’t have more participants from the finance sector. Although they were 50% of the invitees. they were only 10% of the participants. Too scary? Come on bankers be braver next time. We considered over 150 ideas and opinions – here are the ones that got more than 70% support from the group

We call this the espresso report – the top responses.


  • Guess that the Anglo Saxon model of laissez-faire in financial institutions comes to an end in the near future / hopefully!
  • I am not sure if the laissez-faire model will come to an end. There are too many lobbyists in politics for that to happen.
  • Finance nowadays is far more than lending money. It’s an ex-territorial business of smart mathematicians who have no real ethics in mind.
  • Not only in politics but more simply bankers and their lobbyists directly or indirectly influencing the politicians
  • I feel the relationship between banks and clients has changed. It is no longer a supplier-customer relationship, customers have become somewhat dependent on their bank (unless you have loads of money) and banks pretend as if you should be happy they let you be a customer
  • It doesn’t help when the politicians are also the guys with lots of money – they have too much vested interest in preserving the status quo


  • Did they ever accept responsibility and announce they would reform? It’s the arrogance that makes me want to blame them more
  • I scored totally because the real economy does not count any more, what counts are the financial games played to move richness in the hands of the few playing the game
  • It’s an interesting example of moral failure. Probably most of them didn’t actively decide to do harm, but they ignored the signs and hid from personal responsibility
  • nobody in charge really wanted to stop the rat race/ greed competition that took place and still is
  • Indeed, financial authorities have failed completely in all countries in the Western world.  Not in a single country they were able to make a significant difference
  • I am not even sure that the large  majority understood the risks associated with these new products/ derivatives
  • What shocks me is the attitude. Like it was just a big game or a joke. They seem very removed from the reality of the consequences of their behaviour


  • Can’t see a pro from an ethical point of view.
  • Con. When someone shows they can’t be trusted and they have immense influence / power, why would you choose to carry on letting them do what they like?
  • Con. They cannot be allowed to persist in the view that the little people are irrelevant. That they can sit in their marble palaces and play with real lives. They need governance

Read the report

NG banking




Results from 21.07.2011 debate. The Murdoch Effect.


Power corrupts: we must all be vigilant and selective.

  • We need to get our information from different sources , always to balance and weigh  whatever comes our way

Watchwords: Governance, ownership, checks and balances, avoid concentration of power

  • In Latin America we also see a similar phenomenon with the media companies and their power

The clean up process: ugly but welcome

  • Personally I thought that anyway so I am glad that it has been exposed like this. There are many honourable police officers but also systemic corruption that needs to be rooted out.
We are all part of the problem or part of the solution
  • Good reminder that we all make many choices each day. Sometimes the choice is to do what’s convenient or to do what is right.. If we go with convenient we are each part of the problem.


Click on the pdf file to see the full list of synthetrons ordered by topic 1107 Murdoch Effect full report

Results: why we are not as ethical as we think

One of the first things I noticed about today’s debate was the poll results. At the beginning each participant rated themselves on a scale of 1-5 how ethical they are. The weighted average was 4.4. At the end of the discussion we took the same poll and scored ourselves as 3.7. As a main premise of Bazerman and Tenbrunsel’s recent book “Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do about It” is the tendency to turn a blind eye to our own failures to be ethical (like the mice on the right), it seems that the Thinking Tank helped to raise consciousness. It’s a good start.

And some of the well supported statements in our last 5 minutes was a good finish:

  • when I tell my wife what I was doing all this time on my pc I shall answer, I was working on how to make the world a little better
  • Thank you very much- I think we learned quite a lot due to our anonymous discussion…….

What we need to be ethical

We generally agreed that ethics were necessary and standards should be met. But how? The 2 strongest statements in the debate were both about what support we need to be ethical:

  • a clear set of values
  • having the guts to risk being unpopular / sacked, having a greater purpose

We also agreed (like Barry Schwartz on TED) that actions speak louder than words:

  • it is not about the word but more about the behaviour
  • Yes, bringing ethics into everyday life and conversation is a great idea. It cannot be left in theory-land
  • ethics is not just a philosophical concept, it is a day to day issue to discuss and bring to life
  • It is not sustainable for us to all behave selfishly (often the opposite to ethically). In the end we all suffer

And the actions that the group supported most strongly are:

  • I will live and act more closely to my set of values
  • I must be on the alert watching the public discussion on ethics, including the role of the churches and our politicians, discussing these items with my family and children
  • speak up if I notice unethical behaviour

The ethical problem

We also had a frank discussion about the challenges of ethical behaviour. Although as a group we found it easier to criticise others (child abusers, politicians, high profile business fraudsters) than analyse our own shortfalls, there were some personal admissions:

  • So easy to lose touch with reality and believe in your own version of the universe
  • The same thing happens with discounters when they mistreat their employees but you go there shopping almost every day

The most common feelings from behaviour falling short of our own ethical standards is guilt

  • Feel like I let myself and others down. That I was not enough.
  • Feel like I just learnt something and will avoid that mistake next time
  • Turning a blind eye is easy in the short term than hard to live with in the long term. I feel like a coward

If this is an issue that interests you and you would like to see a complete list of the 100 statements put forward and evaluated, contact me Join us next month? Thurs June 16th, 4-4.45pm UK time. All welcome.

Try this May 31 at 1pm UK time: RSA talk on Jonathan Wolff on #ethics and public life.

Next Thinking Tank 19.05.2011 “We’re not as ethical as we think”

This is the challenge thrown down by Max H. Bazerman, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Ann E. Tenbrunsel, a professor of business ethics at the University of Notre Dame. Their new book examines the reality gap between how “good” we like to think we are and what we do in practice. Uncomfortable stuff.

The main causes they identify include biases and prejudices, turning a blind eye and self interest. In our discussion we will attempt to look at our own blind spots and consider what we – and society – can do to address this issue.

Join us for this online debate where we dare to examine our deepest motives. 45 minute live event on Thursday 19 May. Starts 4pm UK time, 5pm CET

See here for information about their book: Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do about It

Join the discussion here. As promoted on RSA USA website

Join the debate

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