The limited contrition of bankers: it’s a communication issue

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“Here are 16 reason why we will miss the gloomy time.

1. Role-play will be less pleasurable. We have split the world into two pantomimic parts: the evil (the bankers) and the good (everyone else). In future, sorting out villains and victims will require more imagination.”

David Marsh, Comment in FT, 21 April 2009

THE WHITE HORSE — There’s something unappealing about this. People who work in the financial services sector are tired of being singled out and they’re getting angry. You can read it in the papers, hear it on the streets and (in my neighbourhood) talk about it in the schoolyards.

‘Why is everyone always picking on me?!’ seems to be the underlying sentiment. And in that I think there is a problem.

Think of the professions that are regularly reviled and/or ridiculed: undertaker, plumber, dentist, (real) estate agent, headhunters, civil servant, military, pharmaceuticals, librarian, tobacconists, builders, farmers, politicians, fast food salesmen, and the list goes on.

The irony though is that for all the stick that these professions take, they are mostly paid a basic wage and few of them have brought about the collapse of the economy.

Some of the smartest people I know work in the financial services sector. Many are now quietly admitting that they haven’t lost the money that they might have. And their pay is being guaranteed.

So there’s quite a serious communication problem for these guys now. Apologies like we heard from RBS’ senior people earlier in the year still come with a “but”. And quotes like this one, still abound:

‘We greatly regret the fact that the total return on our shares during 2008 has been heavily negative.’

Easiest to do would be for bankers to become part of the solution. Start to talk about what needs to be done so that the public and the economy will not be adversely affected again in this way.

If I were advising Sir Fred Goodwin, for example, I would write a 1,000 word piece for the FT explaining where it went wrong… And what should be done to avoid it in the future.

Become part of the solution.

Talk about it.



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2 Responses

  1. Dan Gray

    Nice post, David. I wrote something very similar shortly after Goodwin et al’s appearance in front of the parliamentary select committee. If only they’d had us advising them then, eh?

  2. Roger Long

    David, I am surprised that your list of reviled professions did not begin with or even contain “lawyer” or “attorney”. The old joke goes “What do you call 1,000 lawyers on the bottom of the sea? A start.” Think about inserting “banker” into this on your next trip to the schoolyard.

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