An ethics code for bankers?

An ethics code for bankers?

Monday, 15 February 2016 - 5:00pm
Venue: 
Seminar Room, European Studies Centre, 70 Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6HR
Speaker(s): 
Robert Mass (Head of International Compliance, Goldman Sachs)
Chair: 
David Vines (Balliol College, Oxford)
Convenor: 
Adam Bennett (St Antony’s College, Oxford); David Vines (Balliol College, Oxford)
Series: 
Political Economy of Financial Markets (PEFM)

Abstract
His paper “A Code of Ethics for Bankers – Challenges and Opportunities” argues that the guidance given to bankers by current industry-wide ethics rules has been too vague to provide them with clear and practical guidance or too limited to cover their key ethical challenges.  He proposes instead to develop a workable ethics code by grounding it in our ethical intuitions, suitably refined and tested by reason.  In making that case, he examines Aristotle’s criticisms of rules as inevitably producing unethical results in some cases, David Hume’s archeology of how moral sentiments arise from well-accepted social practices, and John Rawls' analysis of how to bring our moral sentiments and ethical principles into a “reflective equilibrium.”   He then uses those perspectives to examine social practices in banking.  He starts by describing the practice of mutual promising, which he argues is at the core of all business, including banking.  Beyond that, he argues, the banking business is so diverse that an understanding of banking ethics requires us to identify distinct ethics frameworks, for different segments of the banking world.  In particular, three core social practices, game-playing, persuasion and guardianship, provide the ethical frameworks practitioners intuitively understand apply to trading, sales and investment management, respectively, and it is those frameworks which should form the basis of ethical codes for those practitioners.  He identifies some of the ethical rules that apply in each of those areas and examines the roles that “playing by the rules,” helping competitors, sincerity, bias, fairness, competence, conflicts of interest, and other factors play in those practices – with a focus on ethical dilemmas and edge cases.   Finally, he discusses the role that a call to engage in compassionate and other supererogatory acts should have in the development of an ethics code and the dangers of using an ethics code as a vehicle to try to further social policy.

Robert Mass has been a compliance officer in financial services for over 20 years, in both the US and the UK.  He is a currently the Head of International Compliance and Global Head of Securities Division Compliance for Goldman Sachs and a partner of the firm.  He serves as Chair of the FCA’s Market Practitioner Panel, a statutory panel which provides the FCA with independent input from wholesale market firms.  Prior to becoming a compliance officer, he was an Assistant District Attorney in the New York County District Attorney’s Office, where he prosecuted street crime, labor racketeering and police corruption, and served as deputy chief of the Investigation Division and chief of the Labor Racketeering Unit.  Before that, he was a litigator at Kramer, Levin, Nessen and Kamin, a New York corporate law firm, and a staff lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union.  He is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, A.B., where he studied political philosophy, and Harvard Law School, J.D, where he was editor-in-chief of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.   He serves on the Board of Directors of The Mussar Institute and the Board of Visitors and Governors of St. John’s College (Annapolis, Md and Santa Fe, NM).