Bankers are fighting back against so-called banker bashing, according to The Times. But are they taking the correct approach?
Senior bankers have decided that it’s time to mount a campaign to push back against a range of policies that have led to extra costs and regulatory burdens. Quite rightly, bankers have pointed out that Government policies are affecting their ability to compete internationally.
Banks have not been very proactive in getting good publicity and this is part of the reason banker bashing is so pervasive. In a previous blogpost, we suggested it’s time for banks to take control of their narrative and highlight the importance of the banking industry to UK economy. But even that approach may not be enough to stem banker bashing: A recent slew of negative news suggests that the behaviour that led to the banker backlash is still a long way from being stamped out.
At the beginning of this month Barclays received some unwanted attention when an email sent by a second year analyst to incoming summer interns was leaked. The email, which had the subject line “Welcome to the Jungle”, included a “commandment” telling interns "I recommend bringing a pillow to the office (yoga mat works as well). It makes sleeping under your desk a lot more comfortable, in the very likely scenario that you have to do that."
The email couldn’t have come at a worse time: It was sent shortly after the suicide of a first year Goldman Sachs analyst who was said to be overwhelmed by the pressure of the 100-hour workweeks. It was one of numerous unexpected deaths or suicides of young bankers over the past couple of years.
Then this week, JP Morgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon took a swipe at US Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of Washington’s most outspoken critics of the banking industry. Speaking at an industry event in Chicago, Dimon suggested that Warren, a former Harvard Law school professor who specialised in bankruptcy law, doesn’t “fully understand the global banking system.” This condescending remark will do nothing to endear bankers to the wider public.
Bad publicity for banks this month has certainly not been limited to the US. The trial of Tom Hayes, the alleged ring-leader of the Libor rigging case, has been making headlines in the UK. The trial has also revealed some pretty disturbing information about how banks operate, including an allegation that senior UBS bosses may have condoned the rate rigging.
The real problem therefore seems to be down to banking culture. The New York Times writes that “Wall Street has always thrived, in part, on its eat-or-be-eaten culture.” And there is no doubt that there is truth in this. But if banks want to turn around their image, which is really the only way to end banker bashing, serious steps need to be taken to find a new way to thrive. And this is not just about improving their public image – if the current culture is driving employees to criminal behaviour and even suicide, surely that is too high a price to pay – even for bankers.