Where do we go from here?

This week I had the good fortune to attend an Association of Corporate Treasurers dinner that was addressed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. As you may already know, the Most Reverend Justin Welby was a corporate treasurer before he gave up the world of bankers and bonds to train for the Anglican priesthood in 1987. He remains a member of the ACT, however, and acts as its ethical adviser.

Prior to the dinner, I was chatting to a banker from a well-known bank about the Archbishop and explaining that he would be speaking at the event. “Is he the one who doesn’t like bankers?” asked the banker somewhat suspiciously (and somewhat surprisingly considering the number of people in the world who purport to dislike bankers at present exceeds one by some margin).

“I don’t think it’s the case that he doesn’t like them,” I responded cautiously. “I think he just thinks they should have a…”

“Moral conscience,” the treasurer standing next to me interjected helpfully.

“Yes, that’s right!” I agreed brightly. But when I looked at the banker, I saw that his eyes had glazed over at the words “moral conscience”. Either he was sick of banker bashing (who could blame him, I suppose?) or he had no idea what a “moral conscience” meant. The Archbishop’s words, I feared, were going to fall on deaf ears.

With life returning to the City at last, I can’t help wondering where we will go from here. Have we really learned anything from the banking crisis or will the unpleasant blip that has been the past five years soon become a distant memory – rather like a fleeting infidelity in a fifty-year marriage? Once the bonuses start rolling again, will morals even matter or will it all boil down to money – just as it did before?

During his speech, the Archbishop praised the City for working to recover its reputation under some “inspired leadership” but he also called on the financial professionals present to use their talents to make a difference in the world. The financial sector is filled with outstanding people so I hope that at least some of the 1,000 odd individuals in the room heeded his message. Even if you earn a six-figure salary – as Welby himself did back in the eighties – you can still have a moral conscience. But you do need to do something to prove it.

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