OPINION: Has Behaviour Changed in Banking ?

Shanny Basar

The Rio Olympics are due to begin in a few days. Four years ago writer Frank Cottrell Boyce worked with director Danny Boyle on the Olympic opening ceremony in London and last month Cottrell Boyce gave the 2016 Proms Lecture titled “What is Culture?”, especially in the light of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.

The London opening ceremony was performed for free by volunteers. Cottrell Boyce said: “At the heart of the show were thousands of volunteers – men and women, mostly not actors and dancers, who turned up to hours and hours of rehearsal, in a car park in Dagenham for no pay, and did it for Britain and for each other.”

He stressed that giving of time and ideas is the metabolism that drives culture – and is fed by an ecosystem that depends on a network of community projects such as faith groups, church choirs, community dance projects and pub quiz teams.

“Why is this worth saying? Because increasingly the arts are having to justify their own existence. And increasingly they do so in utilitarian financial terms,” he added.

Cottrell Boyce argued that, as a result, the way we view cultural participation is being infected. The infection in financial services became clear after the financial crisis with billions paid in fines and an endless of list of markets being rigged including gold, foreign exchange and interbank lending rates.

This week, Kweku Adoboli, the London trader who lost UBS £1.4bn ($1.9bn), did his first broadcast interviews since being released from prison. He was asked if behaviour in banking has changed and his reply was no.

He said in the BBC interview: “I think the young people I’ve spoken to, former colleagues I have spoken to, are still struggling with the same issues, the same conflicts, the same pressures to achieve no matter what. And this goes back to the structure of the industry. People are required to take risk to generate profit, because yields in the industry are consistently compressed.”

In 2012 Adoboli was found guilty of two counts of fraud and sentenced to seven years in prison, as he became one of the few UK bankers jailed since the financial crisis. During his trial Adoboli claimed the bank knew and approved of his actions, although this was denied by UBS, and other traders testified during the trial that Adoboli had been acting alone.

Anthony Browne, chief executive of the British Bankers Association, argued on Radio 4’s Today program that banking has been working to change its culture over the last five years and this has been boosted by the introduction of the Senior Managers Regime this year. The regime gives named executives clearly defined personal responsibilities for the conduct of specific areas of the business, such as the trading floor, so they can be held liable if things go wrong.

Cottrell Boyce pointed out that before the opening ceremony the British press, and in truth most of cynical public, had expected a disaster that would be witnessed by billions of people around the world. However most of the cynics were won over and the London Olympics became an unexpected triumph.

It it probably asking too much for the Senior Managers Regime to win over public that is still rightly cynical of the culture in the banking industry.

As the regime only came into force in April it is too soon to tell if it is working. The real test will come when there is the inevitable clash between someone who is making lots of money and suspicions about their behaviour. However the financial industry is all about incentives and the threat of being held personally accountable in a public way may be enough to outweigh short-term bonus considerations.

A restoration in trust will take much longer than the few weeks of the Rio games but hopefully there will not be another series of scandals and fines before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. If the financial industry does manage to improve its culture and reputation in the next four years, then senior managers will deserve some medals.

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