A study by researchers from the University of Zurich indicates that bankers are not inherently dishonest. However, it found that the business culture in the banking industry favours dishonest behaviour.
The study, whose results were published in the journal Nature, involved 200 bankers, of which 128 worked for an unnamed large international bank. They were divided into two groups. One group of bankers was reminded of their profession and associated behaviour through a series of subtle questions. The other group was encouraged to think about their non-professional lives outside of work and the norms associated with that part of their lives.
Then, both groups of bankers completed a task that would allow them to increase their income by $200 (CHF191) if they behaved dishonestly. The bankers that were encouraged to think like bankers behaved significantly more dishonestly.
The study was also performed on employees from other industries but they were not more dishonest when reminded of their professional role.
“Our results suggest that the social norms in the banking sector tend to be more lenient towards dishonest behavior and thus contribute to the reputational loss in the industry,” says Michel Maréchal, Professor for Experimental Economic Research at the University of Zurich.
Alain Cohn, co-author of the study, recommends that bankers should take a professional oath and participate in an ethics training programme in order to think of the long-term, social effects of their behaviour instead of their own short-term gains.
The American Bankers Association dismissed the study: "While this study looks at one bank, America's 6,000 banks set a very high bar when it comes to the honesty and integrity of their employees. Banks take the fiduciary responsibility they have for their customers very seriously."
The Swiss Bankers’ Association (SBA) also rejected the study’s conclusions, stating that “the study authors could not indicate whether and to what extent Swiss banks participated in the study.”
The SBA continued that the study is based on international banks and thus does not reflect the reality of the Swiss banking sector – instead, it’s a reflection of a primarily Anglo-Saxon financial culture, the association maintained.
swissinfo.ch and agencies