Can we hope for more responsible business?

    The newly appointed Chief Executive Officer of Barclays Bank, Antony Jenkins, addressed the press in London earlier this month to announce the new blueprint for the bank following the numerous scandals that infested it during in 2012. He was sharp and direct in stating that ethics at Barclays should return to be the focus and guide in this bank restructuring exercise. Financial institutions are blamed for the dire straits that both markets and economies are in today. The collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 is considered to be the milestone event that triggered the financial meltdown and the precursor to the debt crisis in Europe starting in 2010. Fingers are pointed at the laxity in corporate governance and lack of proper checks and balances mechanisms in management structures, but also at the innovation of exotic financial products and the obscure, high pressure methods to promote these products. Banks and other financial institutions were misled by a value judgement framework and business culture which was fundamentally wrong and self defeating. The race for immediate short term results, the urge to outperform rivals, and reward systems that ignite self interest, greed and envy, have been the hallmarks of this collapse in Trust in these institutions. A new but sincere evangelism in banking, financial and any other corporate business is long overdue and heartily welcome. This is after all the true meaning of corporate social responsibility.

    It was therefore both heartening and encouraging to follow the discussion held recently between the members of the Malta group of the Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice Foundation (CAPPF) and the last year students of the Masters of Arts in Business Ethics of the University of Malta. The Foundation members are prominent Maltese professional managers and entrepreneurs, while the MA students are senior managers, accountants and other professionals who decided to have a second or third degree this time in business ethics. CAPPF Malta was one of the organisations behind the launch in 2011 of this post graduate degree which is a result of collaboration between the Faculty of Economics, Management and Accountancy and the Faculty of Theology at the University of Malta. It is a three year evening course which is mainly based on lectures but has a strong component of research. Students are now in their final year which is exclusively dedicated to the research and writing of their dissertation. The encounter held at Misco was aimed at giving an opportunity to these students to describe the research work they are conducting and to provoke a discussion on their work. The themes chosen for their dissertations are of immediate relevance to the situation we are in at the moment. Topics cover ethical aspects of the global financial crisis, the philosophical debate around the subprime mortgage crisis, the possible role of the Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer in financial institutions and the ethics of taxation. Both the degree and the interest by professionals to follow these studies (there will be another intake of students in October this year), captures the basic need of business to regain moral authority and improve its internal discernment process. There are so many silent agents in our community that are building a better business environment. This post graduate course is a concrete step in that direction.

    Joseph FX Zahra
    Economist