Study: Banking Culture Implicitly Promotes Greed, Dishonesty, and Cheating

Swiss researchers conducted an experiment gauging how bankers fared against other professions in a test in which cheating was easy and incentivized. Unsurprisingly, bankers -- particularly those who had just prior been asked questions related to banking -- were more likely to lie for financial gain.

File this one under "well, duh."

A group of researchers at the University of Zurich recently decided to test the hypothesis that bankers are more likely to lie and cheat for financial gain. The study was prompted by all that rampant scandal we keep hearing about (and suffering from) in the banking industry. The researchers wondered whether something inherent in today's banking culture promotes "fraudulent and unethical behaviors."

As it turns out, that's exactly what the researchers found.

Their methods, recently published in a study in Nature, are actually quite fascinating. The researchers set up a lab experiment which consisted of a game of chance:

"They were then asked to toss a coin 10 times, unobserved, and report the results. For each toss they knew whether heads or tails would yield a $20 reward. They were told they could keep their winnings if they were more than or equal to those of a randomly selected subject from a pilot study.

Given maximum winnings of $200, there was 'a considerable incentive to cheat.'"

As for the subjects, the first experiment was tested on over 200 employees of various banks. These participants were divided into two groups. The first group got peppered with questions related to their profession before they took the coin-flip test. The second group was instead asked questions pertaining to everyday life. This was done in order to have banking on the mind of half the participants before flipping the coins.

And the results?

"The results showed the control group [of bank employees] reported 51.6 percent winning tosses and the treatment group -- whose banking identity had been emphasised to them -- reported 58.2 percent as wins, giving a misrepresentation rate of 16 percent. The proportion of subjects cheating was 26 percent."

A second experiment featuring non-bankers showed that dishonesty was a non-factor when their professional identities or thoughts pertaining to banking were salient during the test. The researchers determined that banking culture implicitly promotes greed and unethical behavior:

"Our results thus suggest that the prevailing business culture in the banking industry weakens and undermines the honesty norm, implying that measures to re-establish an honest culture are very important."

Read more at Reuters

Read the study at Nature

Photo credit: aastock / Shutterstock

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