Syndicate content

banking

The science behind collective lying: How and why employees cheat

Roxanne Bauer's picture

It’s well understood that everyone has the capacity to be dishonest and almost everyone cheats— even if it’s just a little. Sometimes we fill our water cups with soda, we take the pens from the credit union, or we may speed when we’re running late. But what is going on when institutional deception, involving multiple people, occurs?

As most of us are now aware, Wells Fargo recently received a $100 million penalty from the Consumer Financial Bureau of the United States after it was uncovered that its employees were engaging in illegal banking practices. This brought the bank's total bill for these infractions to $185 million and coincided with the firings of about 5,300 Wells Fargo employees. According to reports, the 5,300 employees who were allegedly involved secretly issued credit cards that customers never requested, set up fake bank accounts that resulted in customer fees, created fraudulent email accounts to sign up customers for additional services, and actually transferred customers' money between accounts— without permission.
 
Such an outrage might remind you of the Volkswagen scandal last year in which the German car manufacturer admitted that it had used sophisticated software to trick emissions regulators. If a car was being tested, the emissions controls would operate as they should, but if the car was not undergoing a test, the emissions controls would switch off, resulting in cars that emitted 40 times the legally sanctioned levels of air pollutants.  Volkswagen has since has admitted that 11 million vehicles worldwide were equipped with the program that duped emission testing and had to recall a total of 8.5 million diesel vehicles in Europe alone.
 
How in the world did that many people get involved with such unscrupulous behavior? How could over 5,000 Wells Fargo employees engage in such obviously deceptive and fraudulent behavior? And how could so many Volkswagen employees, from software technicians to senior management, go along with blatantly circumventing the rules? How does a group of people end up lying together?

Quote of the Week: Tidjane Thiam

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Tidjane Thiam"You can commit to what you control; if you commit to what you don’t control, you are just a fool.”

Tidjane Thiam, in response to criticism of his new plan for Credit Suisse. Rather than dramatic restructuring seen at other banks, Credit Suisse will reduce the amount of risk-weighted assets by about a fifth and raise equity through a combination of increasing capital by $6.3 billion from sales of shares, scaling back investment banking, slashing costs and a modest shake-up among senior management.

Thiam is a French Ivorian businessman and former politician who became the Chief Executive of Credit Suisse in June 2015. Born in Côte d'Ivoire, he holds dual Ivorian and French citizenship.  

​The Things We Do: Is the Culture of Banking Dishonest?

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Despite its relevance to the broader economy of states, there exists little empirical information on the culture of the banking industry. Identifying the effects of business culture poses several challenges because comparing employees in one sector to those in another can be misleading. Some professions may naturally attract different kinds of people, making it tricky to separate cultural factors from individual ones. Moreover, the financial industry is broad and comprised of many different kinds of businesses and institutions, with some more focused on the consumer and others more focused on fiscal details.

Attempting to shed light on the subject, academics from the University of Zurich designed an experiment inspired by the economic theory of identity.  Identity economics states that economic choices are not only based on personal taste but also on what an individual considers to be appropriate.  Whether a choice is appropriate or not depends on a person’s social identity– their sexual orientation, race, religion, occupation, or where they live.

In the experiment, 128 employees from an international bank, with an average of 11.6 years of experience in the financial sector, were split into two groups. About half of the participants worked in a core business unit, like private banking, asset management, trading, or investment management.  The other half worked in support units like human resources or administration. They were randomly assigned to a treatment or control group.

Quote of the Week: Raghuram Rajan

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Central bankers have had enormous responsibilities thrust on them to compensate, essentially, for the failings of the political system. And my worry is we don’t have sufficient tools to do that, but we’re not willing to say it. And, as a result, we push as hard as we can on the existing tools, and they may create more risk in the system.” 

- Raghuram Rajan, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India since 4 September 2013. Prior to his post at the Reserve Bank of India, Rajan was chief economic adviser to India's Ministry of Finance in 2012 and chief economist at the International Monetary Fund from 2003 to 2007.
 

The Things We Do: Saving for Change

Roxanne Bauer's picture

At the basis of communication and public policy are assumptions about human beings- their rationality or irrationality, their foibles, wants and preferences. A lot depends on whether these assumptions are correct. In this feature, we bring you fascinating examples of human behavior from across the globe.

Saving money is hard.  However, it is also considered to be necessary for making large purchases like a house or car, opening up a business, or planning for retirement. Saving can be particularly difficult for the poor who live day-by-day and do not have much disposable income.  In wealthier countries, financial institutions offer a variety of products to help their clients set aside savings, but in poorer countries, there are fewer savings options. Many poor people end up hiding cash, investing in assets such as livestock or land, or engaging in informal savings arrangements

Yet, for those who have even a little money to stow away, the benefits can be enormous. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) economists Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo have found that even those who live on less than $1 per day have the ability save and often spend money on nonessential items such as alcohol, tobacco, and televisions.  Moreover, when poor people increase their earnings, they spend only two-thirds of their increased income on food.  These findings suggest that poor people do have funds to save.

But why is it so difficult for people of all income levels to save?

Quote of the Week: John Maynard Keynes

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“A sound banker is not one who foresees danger and avoids it, but one who, when he is ruined, is ruined in a conventional way along with his fellows, so that no one can really blame him.”

- John Maynard Keynes, a British economist whose ideas have fundamentally affected the theory and practice of modern macroeconomics, and informed the economic policies of governments. He built on and greatly refined earlier work on the causes of business cycles, and is widely considered to be one of the founders of modern macroeconomics and the most influential economist of the 20th century. His ideas are the basis for the school of thought known as Keynesian economics, and its various offshoots.