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Banks, Accountability and Courage

In his Mansion House speech on 10 June 2015 Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England said about the banking sector that, “Personal accountability was lacking, with a culture of impunity developing.” Is this lack of accountability isolated to the banking sector only, and what is our individual responsibility?

Considering a system wide perspective, and the knock on effect of actions, Mark Carney said that $150 billion in fines levied on banks, resulted in $3 trillion in reduced lending capability. These are massive numbers, and difficult to comprehend that these resulted from a series of actions by individuals. An inappropriate action by one person had a ripple effect that has massively impacted the whole global economy.

Mark Carney said, “All these factors contributed to an ethical drift. Unethical behaviour went unchecked, proliferated and eventually became the norm.” He warned, “The age of irresponsibility is over” and that criminal action will be taken and prison sentences extended.

However, this is punishment after the event, how can these issues be avoided in the first place. Mark Carney said, “We need a much better balance between individual and firm accountability.” Visit BBC news for more information about Mark Carney’s speech

I recently watched the movie “Margin Call” from 2012 starring Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons and Stanely Tucci. This is a great commentary about a financial firm gone wrong. After discovering debts greater than the firms overall market worth, and in a bid to save themselves, the CEO creates a plan to sell off the toxic debt, flooding the market before the true worth is discovered. Traders are offered $1m bonuses to offload the debts, but in the process they destroy their competitors, their own jobs and the whole market. The movie is a commentary on the financial crisis and shows how personal greed can drive system wide destructive actions. But this is not just fiction it is oh-so-real.


The system, in the case of the banking sector, could appear so toxic and so large that it is impossible for individuals to make a difference. However, there are a number of factors that contributed to the ill health of banks that were on an individual level, for example, collusion, turning a blind eye, drive for personal gain and fear.

What actions can individuals take to make the change, or avoid this in other sectors? The key word is ‘courage’. To have the courage to hold true to strong ethical values that considers the whole system (individuals, organisations, markets and economy, short and long term) as apposed to emphasising individual gains. Have the courage to hold direct reports and peers to account. Have the courage to stand-alone and not collude. Have the courage to say ‘no’ when everyone else is saying ‘yes’. Have the courage to be a beacon of light and role model behaviours for others to follow.

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