Doublethink in the City: the inner contradictions of the finance industry laid bare

The CityThe St. Paul’s Institute report on attitudes in the City that was finally published today.  It reveals a host of peculiar contradictions:

  • Financial Service Professionals say that their primary motivation of their work is financial reward, but also believe that they are paid excessively.
  • They say that their companies maintain high ethical standards, but that the deregulation of the last 25 years has led to a decline in ethics.
  • They say that maximizing shareholder value is not inconsistent with high ethical standards, but that the deregulation required for that maximizing leads to ethical decline.

Unveiling of reality

We should not be surprised by the existence of such contradictions, but be pleased that they have been spoken and unveiled. One of the maxims of the City during the Credit Crunch was that ‘there’s no upside to public engagement’. Public engagement leads to discussion and the revealing of painful truths and the City aren’t the only ones that shy away from deciding to embark on that route.

Contradictions laid bare

St. Paul’s themselves have had the contradictions at the heart of their establishment laid bare before the public by the Occupy protests in a way that they certainly wouldn’t have chosen.

More pertinently members of the chapter weren’t fully aware themselves of the impact of their deep and knotted entanglement with the City. When Dean Graham Knowles wrote before the protests in the report that St. Paul’s was “set within the very heart of global capitalism” he hadn’t noticed that it had started to swallow them up. The people at St. Paul’s were trying to live out God’s purposes in their lives, but they had breathed the received opinions of City institutions too long and had stopped noticing their toxicity.


The confused feelings of City workers suggest that they believe they are trapped in ‘the system’ as much as the rest of us, although their imprisonment is more materially comfy and sometimes at our expense. The Right Reverend Peter Selby puts it well at the end of the report:

“The ‘Monday morning institutional drag’, a mixture of fear for one’s own future, actual loyalty to colleagues, and the peer pressure that operates in highly demanding work situations represent significant obstacles to engagement that is effective in engendering change rather than simply a rehearsal of fainthearted guilt.” (my emphasis)

The challenge of speaking truth

The report helps us to glimpse the faces of real people working in the City and serves to reminds us of our own Monday morning contradictions.   We shouldn’t simply cast stones at bankers, but the demons of institutional greed need to be exorcised if we are to create real change and a more just financial system in the UK.

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