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Welby urges bankers to pursue heroism of old

17 October 2014


BANKERS need to pursue the sort of heroism praised by Aristotle and Virgil, seeking to be remembered "as someone who contributed to the world", the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Sunday.

He was part of a panel on ethics at the annual general meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington, DC.

Last year, while listening to evidence presented to the the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Stardards, he had thought "I'd have done the same as them, because of the force of the culture;" and the sessions had also prompted him to wonder "what I am missing in my own institution. . . I'm quite conscious of the flaws in my own system and character and personality."

In Washington, he questioned whether the answer to malpractice lay in greater regulation. Without a change in culture, he warned, we would be left with a financial services industry that was "over-regulated, that is risk-averse, and therefore cannot provide funds to the places that need it most".

The answer lay, rather, in the recasting of ambition as the pursuit of "heroism in the classical sense, as it was seen in early Christian theology, by Aristotle. If you have read The Aeneid of Virgil, you see it very clearly there. That calls us to be those who leave a mark on the world that contributes to human flourishing."

Bankers should look beyond "consequences and rules", and seek to be "remembered as someone who contributed to the world in which you lived, and that your impact is beneficial".

The Church had a part to play in helping those who work in the sector, the Archbishop said. Leaders were struggling to make time for "really rigorous, self-critical, and painful self-reflection", and churches could "make space" for this. He spoke of the Community of Anselm: a group of people aged 20 to 35, who will spend a year at Lambeth Palace engaged in prayer, study, and work with the poor.

He hoped that "in twenty, twenty-five, thirty years, when they are leading countries, industries, armies, even churches, this will be the thing that has shaped them internally to deal with the systemic issues." The decline in religious observance among those working in finance in prosperous countries had removed "the sense of eternal responsibility", he suggested.

The Archbishop was joined on the panel by others with religious perspectives, including the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, who is a Roman Catholic. Mr Carney said that leaders needed to accept responsibility as "custodians" of their institutions.

The managing director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, who also a practising Roman Catholic, said: "We all need to have our Archbishop Justin, or our mother, or what I call our litle Geppetto, so sometimes we say: 'What would Geppetto say to me . . . when I could do something without anybody knowing?"

Ng Kok Song, who chairs GIC's Global Investments, described how daily meditation enabled him to "discover the moral compass, the values by which I operate in the world".

A press briefing provided by the IMF and World Bank said that "world growth is mediocre", but that both the United States and the UK were "leaving the crisis behind and achieving decent growth".

Archbishop Welby told the panel that there had been "almost no recovery" in parts of the UK: "A virtuous banking system is seen in its effects in Toxteth and Bishop Auckland, as much as in return on equity."

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