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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

Banks can sin - and they do

So its seems that not only will I be paid by the Church of England, I could be banking with the CofE as well!

The financial press is reporting that the Church Commissioners are major players in a group bidding for the 316 branches of the Royal Bank of Scotland. We are talking about £1bn, the kind of money only Premier league footballers are familiar with.

And they have a chance! Those in the know reckon that the HM Treasury want to be seen to accept the most ethical offer.

I have been banking with William and Glyns/RBS since a student, during which time I have seen a seismic shift in banking culture.

This was demonstrated in the mid 1980’s when Jacqui took a cold phone call. “Would you like a holiday in the Caribbean?” was the hook. Yes – but no way could we afford it. “Don’t worry – we can lend you the money!”

It seems that the caller making such an irresponsible offer was on the staff of our local RBS branch reaching for her target. I know that if I had sought the advice of Mr Martin my old-fashioned bank manager, he would have been totally appalled had we gone for the loan.

No wonder that he and virtually all his colleagues took early retirement. It seemed that overnight there was no one over the age of 50 in local banking, a whole generation of invaluable experience had been rendered irrelevant.

I remember talking to Nigel who had a senior position in National Westminster. The pressures on him were such that he wanted to become a postman. Good people were being put under pressure to do wrong things.

And of course, the outcome was inevitable. Sadly we all have suffered as a result of the banking crisis. The banks had become too big to fail as they had lost their ethical bearings. Or in the words of Archbishop Justin’s college dissertation (incidentally, I went to Cranmer Hall too!) companies can sin. And they do.

"I don't believe in good human beings," Justin explains, "but I believe you can have structures that make it easier to make the right choice or the wrong choice."

The use of the word “sin” is fascinating: it implies God and it implies responsibility. And it can also imply punishment.

One of the recommendations of the parliamentary commission on banking standards, in which Archbishop Justin played a leading role, was that senior bankers who act irresponsibly should go to prison.

Clearly we need banks, and that means bankers, to act ethically, especially if they hold strategic positions.

For what counts is the culture of each bank, in fact of any organisation we may belong to. It is the ethos of the company that determines whether laws will be broken and social responsibilities ignored.

And this means all of us, not just those with leadership positions – although leaders must make quite clear by their actions, as well as by their communications, what standards they hold themselves and everyone else to.

So will RBS at 24 Derby Street be handing out New Testaments to his customers? What we could hope for is that it will be operating on New Testament principles. For strangely, as Jesus taught, when you put the Kingdom of God first, everything else then follows!

It is no coincidence that many of our banks –Barclays and Lloyds, to mention two – were founded by Quakers. It’s how they thrive, from rich ethical soil.

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