Speaker: Robert Mass, Head of International Compliance, Goldman Sachs
Chair: David Vines, Balliol College, Oxford
The financial services sector continues to grapple with a string of headline-grabbing scandals. One interpretation of this has been that the industry suffers from a serious shortfall in ethical standards. Various solutions have been offered for the apparent “culture problem”. High profile commentators have argued, for instance, that managers should set a “tone from the top,” correcting for deficits in ethical standards by modelling conscientious behaviour towards clients, competitors and co-workers and expecting the same from those further down the ladder.
In February, PEFM hosted Robert Mass, Head of International Compliance at Goldman Sachs, to discuss his proposals for a code of ethics for bankers. Mass’ engagement with codes of ethics was incredibly wide-ranging, spanning both the philosophical and pragmatic.
In order to be effective, says Mass, codes of ethics must be rooted in existing social practice, in the day-to-day lives and expectations of those they hope to influence. Drawing on moral philosophers including Hume and Smith, Mass argues that ethical standards cannot be given a priori; instead, cultural norms arise out of particular cultural milieus and conventions. The challenge of an ethics code is to set out the principles contained in existing practice, to codify them, in order to encourage socially appropriate behaviour.