Task 1 (a):
The main role of financial institutes is to act as an intermediary between the ones who have excess funds and the ones who require funds. Having effective financial markets is so important for the development and prosperity of any economy and country as it helps in the provision of funds to the business owners and industrialists which then utilize those funds in starting new ventures or expanding the already existed ones. On the other hand, weak and ineffective financial institutes and markets can result in stagnancy in the economy of the country, slower growth, and a rise in unemployment.
Why financial sector is more regulated than the other sectors?
A downfall in the financial sector can have a ripple effect:
In the financial sector, the extent of interconnectedness and dependence on each other is quite larger than in any other sector. The primary business of any bank is to lend the funds to its clients or customers who are in need of additional funds; and, sometimes banks even tend to borrow money from other banks in order to lend to other customers. Hence, the failure of one bank can be a negative aspect for the other bank. On the other hand, we don’t see this much of the interconnectedness in any other sector, the downfall of any manufacturing company might be a greater opportunity for other manufacturing firms but hardly a sign of risk.
The financial crisis of 2008 started from the declining housing prices in the United States of America but its impact could be easily witnessed in countries of Europe and Asia. (Philip Rawlings, Andromachi Georgosouli, Costanza Russo, 2014)
The case of social externality:
The social externality is the term used to define the phenomena when the doer of a wrong action might not be the one who would face the consequences of his doings. Stockholders of a power-generating company might not be directly affected by the pollution created by the burning of coal; hence their main priority would be to increase the electricity production so that their profitability would increase no matter how harmful it could be for the overall environment.
Such social externality also exists in financial markets. The bankers and the brokers who would sell bogus stocks for the sake of commissions might not be directly affected if the prices of those stocks start to fall down. (Glenn Hubbard, 2010)
In such scenarios, regulators feel a greater need for regulations that can limit the possibilities of unfair exploitation from social externalists.
Asymmetric information occurs when one party involved in the transaction has more information than the other party. The professionals working in the financial sector definitely possess more knowledge and information than their customers and clients.
A common person doesn’t buy financial products very often in his life, unlike other products like utilities and clothes. Hence, it is difficult for the common person to know much about the actual quality and authenticity of financial products. (Frank A. Wolak, 2015)
The role of regulators is to lessen the levels of information asymmetry between the parties of transactions and make sure that financial institutes are not taking undue advantage of the simplicity of a common man.
Task 1 (b):
According to the London Institute of Banking and Finance, professionalism in banking provides the bridge between ethics and law. In the world of finance, professionalism means to act and behave legally and ethically all the time.
After the financial crisis of 2009, it could be found that some financial firms and banks had started to extricate themselves from their ethical and legal responsibilities; they started to focus more on short-term benefits rather than thinking for the betterment of their customers. The internal culture of such firms had begun to pursue policies which emphasized more on generating revenues and sales while focusing less on the safety and perseverance of the rights of their clients.
To achieve the professionalism in banking and financial services industry is to commit oneself to acquire relevant knowledge and to develop oneself in accordance with the requirements. Professionalism in banking also refers to establishing an internal culture that makes it hard to take decisions that are not aligned with the long-term prosperity of the client.(Martin Day, 2016)
Task 1 c:
According to the code of conduct of Chartered Banker Institute, the following are the few commitments a professional working in the banking industry should commit to:
- A banker should treat all of his colleagues, counterparties, and customers with respect and ethics.
- He should commit to the continuous personal development and maintenance of relevant skillset and act with care and diligence while providing any financial advice. He should understand his responsibility and hold complete accountability for his actions.
- Banking professionals should comply with all the implied regulations and be cooperative with the regulators.
- Always act in an honest and trustworthy manner. A banking professional should manage all the conflicts of interest,
- Treat customers fairly and keep their interests on topmost priority.
- Keep all the information provided by the clients confidential.
Task 2 (a)
Ethics is a process that governs and guides the way in which human beings interact with each other. They influence the process in which people make decisions and lead their lives. Ethics dictate what is good for individuals and is concerned with acting according to the right behavior, whereas law is concerned with what is right and what is wrong. Law and legal requirements differ from ethical ones in such a way that the law refers to a systematic body that is aimed at governing the whole society and the actions of each and every individual, whereas ethics refers to a branch of philosophy that is concerned with basic human conduct.
Violation of any law or legal requirement in any capacity will lead to punishment, either imprisonment, fine, and/or suspension. Laws represent a basic standard of human behavior, which is derived from ethics and morality. Hence, laws and regulations are concerned with ethics and morality. Both legal and ethical requirements provide bankers with guidelines as to how to act, what to do and what not to do in certain situations (Green, 1989).
Radical subjectivism theory claims that true reality is independent of perception. It states that perception and consciousness are real and that the nature of such reality is dependent on the perception or the consciousness of the individual. The theory of radical subjectivism claims that the nature or the existence of any and every object solely and entirely depends on the any person’s awareness and subjective perception of it (Lewin, 2011). One of the major objectives of the radical subjectivism theory is that subjectivism seems to claim that moral statements give information only regarding what or how we feel about moral issues. For instance, this theory states that if a person approves of something, then it must be good. Similarly, if one does not approve of something then it must surely be bad (O’Neill, n.d.)
Moral relativism theory claims that moral judgements are right or wrong only relative to a specific standpoint, which can be that of a culture or a historical era. The theory also states that no such standpoint can be proved objectively significant over another. For example, according to the theory of moral relativism, the statement that ‘slavery is unjust’ is true relative to the standpoint of the moral frameworks of the 21st century. The same statement of ‘slavery is unjust’ would however be false relative to the moral perspective of South America in the 18th century. The major objective of the moral relativism theory is that the theory is logically inconsistent in such a way that the right and wrong are only relative terms. The arguments against this theory that it can only be right or wrong relative to a particular culture or an era (Harman, 1975).
Virtue theory claims that ethics and morality are person based rather than action based. The theory looks at the moral character of the person conducting any action, rather than at the ethical and moral duties and responsibilities of the person or the consequences of any actions that the person carries out. The virtue theory centres the ethical and moral principles on the person carrying out any action. One of the main objections against virtue theory is that the theory does not provide any guidance on what to do or how to act in situations that present a person with a moral or ethical dilemma. The theory just goes on to assume that a ethical person would know how to act and what to do in any such situation and we would consider such a person as a role model(Veatch, 1985).
Task 2 (d)
In a competitive workforce environment, certain situations can arise where a fellow employee may start to act in a way that is considered morally and ethically questionable in regards to the moral framework of the society. One such instance of an ethically questionable behavior can arise when one employee takes credit for the work of another employee. The best way to deal with such a person and to challenge such unethical conduct is by the use of ethical reasoning. Ethical reasoning states that people act and behave in a way that either enhances the quality of life and work of others or their behavior and conducts decreases the quality of life for other. It claims that the actions of the people can either be helpful or harmful and that people know the difference between helping and harming. Using ethical reasoning, the morally questionable behavior of an individual who takes credit for the work of others can be challenged by highlighting the act of the person. Highlighting the act or conduct that harms another person is worthy of criticism. For many people, such a response from others can serve as a guiding principle for their actions.
Task 3 (a):
During the financial crisis of 2009, thousands of people lost their life savings, dozens of countries faced recessions and few of the largest financial institutions of the world got bankrupted. Such incidents force people and institutes debate over the issue of “to what extent the financial institutes should be regulated.”
Regulations for banking sector and their history?
After the crash of stock market in 1929 and the nationwide commercial bank failure during the great depression, the Glass–Steagall Act came into existence which basically started the era of regulations for the financial institutions, especially banks. Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 stopped banks from participating in the activities of investment banking and also put a ban on investing depositors’’ money in risky equities. At that time commercial banks were highly involved in investing in stock market which is considered as one of the main reasons for the crash of 1929. The main purpose of the Glass-Steagall act was to stop banks from taking excessive risk on depositors’ money.
But later on in 1999, Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act repealed the Glass-Steagall Act and again provided extra freedom to banks. Many economists claim that repealing of the Glass-Steagall Act was one of the main culprits behind the financial crisis of 2009.
Main differences between two acts:
The agenda of Glass-Steagall act was to stop banks from participating in other activities like investing, insurance and focus mainly on providing banking services. However, later on Gramm-Leach Bliley Act again allowed banks to participate in other activities. GLBA also allowed banks to invest in equity markets.
Task 3 (b):
Deregulation in any industry or sector means that the government removes or reduces strictness and barriers which make it easier for the companies to operate. Deregulation or to which extent the government should deregulate financial sector has always been a matter of debate as it involves greater challenges and risks. Financial markets doesn’t operate like any other goods or services market; there are several fundamental differences between the two. In a common goods market, the business owners tries to develop assets which can help people in doing tasks more effectively and hence, increase the future cash flows. However, in financial markets, people tries to make profit through the information related to the current existing assets. In ordinary goods or services markets, discovery of prices is based on information received from several of independent players who are acting for their own personal wellbeing, and chances for profit making arise from individuals’ circumstances based on the confidential, situational information of the market players. On the other hand, in financial markets, like equities, bonds, currencies and derivatives, discovery of price is usually dependent on information provided by very few events, or even on models based on mathematics that purely relies on historical data.
One of the key flaws in the working of financial instruments and markets is that the prices and profitability often get derived by the herd behavior. Because of this if an individual goes against the majority, even if he has followed logical assumption and acted on fundamentals, he might face huge losses. This characteristic of financial market sometimes creates bubble in the prices of assets which is promoted by speculations and may end in disasters like what happened in 2008 in the form of fall in the housing prices.
Following are few of the pros and cons of the deregulating financial institutes like banks.
- It can decrease the barriers of entry.
Having stiff regulations in the financial sector can stop small players from entering the market which can hinder innovation. Deregulating the banking industry, can make it easier for startups to enter the industry, improve the overall service quality and give more choices to the customers. The most recent example of this is the inception of the concept of “Open Banking” in Europe. Open banking basically allows new comers like startups to use the data base of well-established banks in order to create and promote innovative payment solutions.
- A step towards the creation of free markets:
Free market is the concept where market forces like supply and demand set the prices of goods and services. When a greater force like regulatory body or government interfere in the operations of financial institutions, a financial instrument like bond or currency, can never trade on its actual market price, which economists believe is harmful for the overall economy and growth in the longer run.
- Deregulations can decrease the cost of borrowing money:
Deregulation can improve corporate efficiency as it can lower the cost of borrowing money. Having tough regulations will allow only few big players to complete in the industry which can result in oligopoly like situation, resulting in higher costs for using their products. Deregulating the banking system, may allow new players in the market which will increase competitions and hence, lower costs.
Following are the few cons of deregulating the financial institutes:
- Speculations will increase:
With its benefits, deregulation also brings issues like creation of asset bubbles. With no or lesser regulations, participants in financial markets will be free to speculate which can result in the creation of asset bubbles and bursts. This is exactly what happened in the financial crises of 2009. Market participants like banks were free to grant loan to whomever they want even without a proper scrutiny, which resulted in a huge portfolio of subprime mortgages.
- Financial institute might exploit common men:
Asymmetric information occurs when one party involved in the transaction has more information than the other party. The professionals working in the financial sector definitely possess more knowledge and information than their customers and clients.
A common person doesn’t buy financial products very often in his life, unlike other products like utilities and clothes. Hence, it is difficult for the common person to know much about the actual quality and authenticity of financial products. The role of regulators is to lessen the levels of information asymmetry between the parties of transaction and make sure that financial institutes are not taking undue advantage of the simplicity of a common man.
- Lack of attention towards social concerns:
Without proper regulations, financial institutes may ignore the damage provided by them to the social issues or concerns as they might not be the one who would face the consequences of their doings. Social externality exists in financial markets. The bankers and the brokers who would sell bogus stocks for the sake of commissions might not be directly affected if the prices of those stocks start to fall down. In such scenarios, regulators feel a greater need of regulations which can limit the possibilities of unfair exploitation from the social externalists.
Ethical dilemmas are very hard to solve. Usually there is no universal answer or solution to ethical questions and dilemmas which people or corporations face in their daily lives. There were many philosophers which provided different theories of ethics but in reality they may conflict which each other and couldn’t help us in finding the right answer and solution for our ethical dilemmas. However, Milton Friedman tried to solve this issue by publishing an article in New York’s Time by a title, “The social responsibility of a corporation is to increase its profits”. In this article Friedman tried to give a direction to corporations for solving their ethical dilemmas and providing them a way of doing business accurately.
According to Friedman, the only social responsibility of a corporation is to increase its profits while doing all the right things and playing by the rule, which means by not doing any fraud or deception. Another part of Friedman’s argument is that corporations shouldn’t be engaged in activities related to “corporate social responsibility” as by spending shareholders’ money on such activities which can’t be beneficial directly in increasing the corporate’s profits, is against the principle of free economy and capitalism. Money which is spent on social responsibility programs by companies are of shareholder which should be given to them in the form of dividends and the directors or managers are the employees of those shareholders and the sole job is to work in order to increase the profitability of the company not to spend on social issues in form of corporate social responsibility. (Milton Friedman, 1970)
This idea can raise the question that whether managers or directors can literally do anything to increase the profits of their organizations? Even if playing by the rules, there might be many shady or wrong things which can be put in the box of unethical activities, so what about that? If by doing these activities, profits of the organization is increasing, should directors do that?
In his article, Friedman further clarifies that directors and managers can’t do anything to increase the profits of the organization but only those which are allowed by the government and are legal in case of law. In Friedman’s viewpoint, a company should engage in an activity not because it is good for the society but because it is financially and economically feasible and viable. (Craig P. Dunn and Brian K. Burton, 2006)
In opposition to the thoughts and viewpoints of Friedman, many scholars and specialists have tried to prove that being engaged in ethical and social responsible activities are crucial and beneficial for the company, even in financial and economical term. When a company acts socially responsible, it gives a message that it really cares about its customers and this is a great marketing tactic which in the end results in increasing profits. (Ian Watson and Peter Prevos, 2009)
The most relevant example to prove that being engaged in corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities can be beneficial to the company, financially and operationally, is of Starbucks. Starbucks is most famously known for selling coffee. It has 22,000 stores in more than 60 countries to date. Starbucks’s CEO, Howard Schultz, is a firm believer that giving back to the society is the ultimate way of doing business. (Sornchai Harnrungchalotorn, n.d.)
In 2010, Starbuck was doing poorly financially. The main reasons were the financial crisis and internal restructuring. In this current time, Howard Schultz decided to innovate Starbuck’s CSR strategy and invests in its people, communities and environment. Starbucks currently have several CSR initiatives like ethical sourcing, community services and sustainable environment.
In ethical sourcing, Starbucks helps the farmers from which it buys coffee beans, cocoa and other stuffs through educating them and providing them free of cost seeds and coffee plants. Through community services Starbucks donate to local NGOs, train young people and pay for education. To decrease its carbon emission and negative environmental impacts, Starbucks is going towards eco-friendly LEED certified stores, recycling and using electricity which is produced through green sources. (Sanne Bruhn-Hansen, 2012)
In order to understand the impact of all of these socially ethical activities on the profitability and financially viability of Starbucks, we need to see how such activities have helped Starbucks. Educating the farmers regarding the efficient ways of growing coffee beans and providing them free seeds have built the trust between the Starbucks and the community of farmers which resulted in a better quality of coffee beans and adequate supply without any hassle. Investing in its people through training and education, Starbucks has lowered its turnover rate, increased the efficiency level and made its employees loyal. Protecting environment has played a key role in portraying a soft corporate image of Starbucks and a great marketing tactic which resulted in buying the trust of its customers; hence, increment in profitability. (Hussam Al Halbusia*& Shehnaz Tehseenb , 2017)
Milton Friedman needs to understand the long term impact of CSR activities and stop measuring the expenses of CSR in isolation. When a company engages itself in socially ethical activities, it sends a message to the world and its customers that it really cares not only about its profits but also of its customers, its people and the environment where it operates which in the end results in increment in the overall profit.
Stakeholder theory is another theory given by Edward Freeman which tries to explain why corporations should be engaged in moral and ethical activities. Instead of beginning a business and then seeing what an organization can do to help the communities and environment, stakeholder theory starts from the world in itself. It starts from listing all the relevant stakeholders which are and will be impacted by the operations or business of the corporation. The organizations in stakeholder theory asks questions like who will be impacted by our business. What kind of impact we will be making to our neighboring communities? Is our business harmful to the environment? In short, all those people, communities or environment which would be impacted by the operations of the company are the stakeholders of those business just like company’s debtors or shareholders. All of these stakeholders have a claim of the company and the company should be considerate of them. (Jeffrey S. Harrison, 2015)
As an example, when a manufacturing unit starts production and emits carbon particles which results in pollution in the neighboring towns, all the people residing in those areas are the relevant stakeholder in that company and have a valid right to question such emissions. Hence, these people must share their opinions and contribute to decisions made at a corporate level.
This theory differs from the previous theory that companies should engage in CSR activities as they make it more profit by doing such things. This theory claims that the company has a moral obligation to serve the stakeholder who are directly or indirectly affected by the operations of the company. (MridulaGoel and Dr. Reeti E.Ramanathanb, 2014)
In my opinion, this theory is more accurate than the theory of Friedman as through this companies are obliged to serve its surrounding entities not for the sake of increasing profits but because they have to. If all companies follow this theory and make themselves obliged, many issues in the society such as environmental pollution, misusage of labor, unethical and wrong doings will be stopped. However, fully fledged implementation of this theory is not possible as there are still loopholes in the law through which organizations are not obliged to answers all the stakeholders except the ones who have direct legal claim on them like shareholders. (Ahmadi Alia, 2016)
Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, publically stated in January 2018 that now the companies have the obligation to make profit and deliver back to the society in any way and if the company fail to do the later, it may face serious consequences as now the customers are aware of the worldly issues and will not prefer to buy products or consume services from a provider who emit carbon particles, is not focusing on recycling and green energy production. This statement from the CEO of a fund which manages $6 trillion globally is now a normal standard.
Financial success for companies is now correlated with their performance in environmental, social and governance sector (ESG). The abundance of sustainability indices from Dow Jones to Bovespa marks the point that now organizations’ performance is analyzed across financial and non-financial indicators like social and environmental. The “sustainability premium” of organizations shows which companies can manage risk better or make better usage of new opportunities.
The relevance of such issues are directly linked to the financial sector as banks lend money to organizations which might not be performing well on ESG platforms which portrays that these organizations might face tough times in future in terms of not managing the risk in an efficient way or taking full use of new opportunities. (Allen N. Berger, 2003)
Financial institutions which lend money to high risk sectors like oil and gas exploration, electricity generation, coal miners etc, face two kinds of risks, credit and reputational. Lending funds to such sectors or companies which are contributing directly to the world’s pollution or are not taking labor laws and ethics seriously, can create issues like late repayments or even defaults in severe cases. (Michel Dietsch, 1996)
For the financial industry, credit risk, reputational risk, and an intention to help defining the solutions created the road for the establishment of the Equator Principles (EPs) in 2003. 92 investment banks which specialize in project financing have adopted the EP as of now, representing 72% of the global project financing banks. With management from financial institutions including commercial and investment banks, development banks, non- profit organizations, governments and civil society organizations, the financial institutes are developing standards, policies and handy tools that are helping environmental and social friendly strategies converting into corporate strategies for financial institutes like investment banks, asset management firms, funds to better assess risks and build client strategy and capacity along the way.( Colin McKee and Luiz Gabriel Azevedo, 2018)
Financial institutes, especially banks, are the building blocks for any community or society as they act like a bridge between the lenders and borrowers. Banks help the economy to grow, unemployment to reduce and the overall society to prosper. Since ages banks have been providing funds to sectors like oil and gas, electricity generations, coal miners, which are now considered non-environment friendly as they emit carbon particles into the environment which results in pollution. With increasing awareness regarding climate change and global warming, these sectors which have been harming the environment are facing tough time from non-profit organizations, governments and civil societies, even customers on individual basis have started to boycott products or services from companies which are not taking precautionary measure to combat environmental issues and reduce their carbon emission.
Financial institutes are facing the heat too as they have been indulged in funding some of the major coal powers plants or other infrastructure projects which have been harming the environment. Now the dilemma for banks is what to do next, should they continue funding these firms or organizations or adapt another corporate strategy. Do banks face any moral obligation to align themselves with global ESG goals? (Simon Dikau and Ulrich Volz, 2018)
After doing some thorough research and studying few relevant theories regarding ethics and morality, I have come to the conclusion that yes, banks should be obliged to align their funding strategies to a more environmental and social friendly goals. If banks continue to do what they have been doing since ages, they may face severe consequences like loss of clients who are environmental friendly, issues like late repayments and defaults of clients which are taking relevant precautions to combat carbon emissions. (Virginia Zhelyazkova, Yakim Kitanov , 2015)
If banks don’t adapt a more ESG friendly corporate strategy and keep funding projects or companies which are providing harm to this environment and society, they might not be able to find clients in future. (Simon Cooper, 2019)
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