The financial industry encourages dishonest behaviour – but the individuals are not themselves inclined to lie – according to a new study of investment managers and traders.
The experiment, tantalisingly conducted at an unnamed “major international bank”, has found that bankers are more likely to lie when they think about their jobs than otherwise.
The team of economists at the University of Zurich claims this suggests it is the culture itself that encourages dishonest behaviour, rather than, as some banker-bashers would have it, a certain type of people being attracted to the industry.
The team enlisted the help of 128 employees from a “large international bank” and quizzed half of them about their jobs and the company, while the other half were asked about their favourite hobbies.
Participants were then asked to toss a coin 10 times, unwatched by the researchers, and to report the outcome. If they flipped more heads than tails they were told they could earn money and if they reported all heads or all tails, they would receive $200.
The first group, which was asked about work, reported a significantly high proportion of heads – 58.2 per cent – while those who talked about their hobbies reported a hit rate of 51.6 per cent.
The study was tried out with other non-banking groups of people – students, for example – but did not find the same effect. This seems to suggest the banking sector has a particuarly strong sway over people's honesty levels.
To help to combat dishonesty in banking, the team, co-led by Michel Maréchal, is recommending measures such as having bankers swear a professional oath to consider the impact of their work on society, along the lines of the Hippocratic oath taken by physicians — or stopping companies from rewarding employees who behave dishonestly.
The study was published in Nature.