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Monday, 22 February 2016

A code of ethics for bankers – Challenges and opportunities

Alexandra Zeitz (St Antony’s College, Oxford)

Speaker: Robert Mass, Head of International Compliance, Goldman Sachs
Chair: David Vines, Balliol College, Oxford

The financial services sector continues to grapple with a string of headline-grabbing scandals. One interpretation of this has been that the industry suffers from a serious shortfall in ethical standards. Various solutions have been offered for the apparent “culture problem”. High profile commentators have argued, for instance, that managers should set a “tone from the top,” correcting for deficits in ethical standards by modelling conscientious behaviour towards clients, competitors and co-workers and expecting the same from those further down the ladder.

One popular response to the seeming problem of values has been to set out ethics codes that explicitly commit bankers to clear normative standards. Barclays, for instance, unveiled a code of conduct in 2013 as part of its efforts to address the cultural deficits that underlay the foreign exchange-fixing and personal protection insurance scandals. In 2015, the G20 released a set of Principle of Corporate Governance. What can such codes achieve, and what should they include?

In February, PEFM hosted Robert Mass, Head of International Compliance at Goldman Sachs, to discuss his proposals for a code of ethics for bankers. Mass’ engagement with codes of ethics was incredibly wide-ranging, spanning both the philosophical and pragmatic.

In order to be effective, says Mass, codes of ethics must be rooted in existing social practice, in the day-to-day lives and expectations of those they hope to influence. Drawing on moral philosophers including Hume and Smith, Mass argues that ethical standards cannot be given a priori; instead, cultural norms arise out of particular cultural milieus and conventions. The challenge of an ethics code is to set out the principles contained in existing practice, to codify them, in order to encourage socially appropriate behaviour.

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Eurozone crisis and South East Europe: Recovery or illusion?

Alexandra Zeitz (St Antony's College, Oxford)

Speakers: Adam Bennett, St. Antony’s College, Oxford; and Peter Sanfey, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development 
Chair: Jonathan Scheele, St. Antony’s College, Oxford

In late January, the PEFM seminar series was treated to a data-rich and fascinating account of the crisis experience of South East European states.  Adam Bennett of St. Antony’s College and Peter Sanfey of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) presented the book they co-authored with Russell Kincaid, formerly of the IMF and the late Max Watson, also formerly of the IMF and founding director of PEFM.

Economic and Policy Foundations for Growth in South East Europe (Palgrave, 2015) reviews the experience of crisis in the ten South East European economies and argues for renewed commitment to reform to ensure sustained prosperity.

The South East European (SEE) states comprise Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and the seven successor states of former Yugoslavia. Bennett outlined three distinct phases of development in this region since the onset of “transition” in 1990. The first ten years he characterized as the “valley of tears”, as countries variously underwent the dismantlement of economic systems and then rebuilt them, or were ripped apart by conflict. The second phase comprised the boom years of the first part of this century through the onset of the global economic crisis at the end of 2008, when all countries managed to achieve remarkable (and too good to be true) growth rates—the “sunlit uplands” of peace and fruition of reform. The final phase, where SEE arguably remains today, was characterized as the “wilderness years” of post crisis recession followed by stagnation.

Though there were of course idiosyncrasies in their economic trajectories in the build up to the crisis and stagnation of 2009-2014, the trends across the region are instructive. On the basis of detailed country-level data, Bennett described the emergence of a massive savings gap in these economies during a boom period that stretched from 2000 to 2008.