Banker bashing season is well and truly open for another year. It almost feels like a game trying to guess how the government is going to reign in the bonuses and which banker or ex-banker is going to be the next figure to be vilified and made a scapegoat. But as we all know, this is not a game and what goes on in the world of banking has a huge impact on the economy and our lives. Financial services companies contributed £63 billion in tax in 2010-11. That was 12.1%, or 1 in every £8, of the total UK tax intake.
Despite these huge numbers, it really isn’t hard to see why the public get upset when they see how big bankers salaries and bonuses are. Even after all this time since the financial meltdown of 2008, it really doesn’t feel like the banks have properly said sorry for the mess they have caused and bankers’ incomes continue to rise sharply despite their institutions’ sluggish current performance and drops in share prices.
Following The decisions of RBS’s chief executive, Stephen Hester, and chairman, Sir Philip Hampton, to forego their bonuses perhaps there will be similar moves at the other banks over the coming days to do the same. Much as most people, including myself, would love to see this happen, I doubt it will. RBS is an exceptional case being 82% owned by the government (i.e. us the taxpayers). The government can exert much more pressure on RBS than it can on the other banks. As far as the reports in the media indicate, these bonuses were not given up voluntarily due to some sort of act of principle, but rather because of the negative consequences for the individuals and the bank if they hadn’t
Somehow if there were a significant number of bankers who said, “You know what, we’ll turn down our bonuses or give them away to charity, to show that we understand how the public sees us at the moment and try to show that we’re not heartless money grabbers only interested in making large profits.” then I think public’s attitude would rapidly become less hostile.
In 1 Timothy 6:10, Paul says that, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” and in Ecclesiastes 5:10 it reads, ‘Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.’ At times when you read the papers and watch the TV it really does give the impression that the love of profits and greed is a devastatingly corrupt influence that has gripped the banking industry round the world. Have those who work in these institutions sold themselves to the idol of profits at any cost?
Working in these places that appear so godless wouldn’t be the obvious place for a Christian to work, you might think, but if you scratch beneath the surface you’ll find that they are there. Possibly the most well known of these Christian faces is Ken Costa, chairman of Alpha International and also the churchwarden of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), one of the largest and influential churches in the country. He also was previously the chairman of Lazard, one of the world’s preeminent financial advisory and asset management firms. At the end of last year he was comissioned by the bishop of London and St. Paul’s cathedral to to head an initiative “reconnecting the financial with the ethical”.
There seems to be this unwritten assumption that if you want to really step out in faith as a Christian you should do full-time Christian work by becoming a church leader, missionary, charity worker, youth worker, or something else along those lines. This isn’t biblical, but when I look at many of the Christian young people I know, this is the path many of them want to follow. This often because they see role models in these positions and want to follow in their footsteps. It is exciting seeing their enthusiasm to serve God, but they can’t all take on these roles and positions. If we were all church leaders, who would pay for our upkeep and who would we all lead? Again, during intercessory prayers at church services there will be often be prayers for our vicar and his family and for those working in Christian organisations. Sometimes there might be prayers for doctors, nurses, teachers and others working in caring professions. I can’t remember hearing prayers for those who work in banking, do office jobs or work in the media. This subtly reinforces the concept of what ‘good’ Christians should do.
Just think for a moment what our society would be like if the banks were run on Christian principles? How about insurance companies or the newspapers? It’s hard to argue that our society wouldn’t be better off for it. Jesus calls his church ‘The light of the world’, but if all we do is stay in the nice clean places, then there will be a lot of mess in the world we’re ignoring. I know someone very well who is a Christian and was on the board of an international cigarette company. I can’t imagine many Christian’s wanting to do a job like that, but he worked himself into a position of influence where he was able to make sure the company ran more ethically and legally than some of their competitors. He was being God’s light in that place.
If the Church put more effort into actively encouraging its members to work in professions that would benefit greatly from a strong moral compass, and then support them in those roles, just think what benefit to our country there might be.
If you want to read how Christians cope with working in the City and the challenge of sticking to their beliefs, then this excellent article in the Independent gives a thorough account from someone who has experienced it firsthand.