Of money and morals

Moneylending has been taboo for most of human history. So how did usury stop being a sin and become respectable finance?

In 2014, Citigroup called. The bank had been battered by successive scandals and a wave of public mistrust after the financial crisis, so they wanted to hire Miller as an on-call ethicist. He agreed. Rather than admonish bankers to follow the law – an approach that Miller thinks is inadequate – he talks to them about philosophy. Surprisingly, he hasn’t found bankers and business leaders to be a tough crowd. Many confess a desire to do good.

.. And then we spend next hour talking about ethics, purpose, meaning. So I know there’s interest.’

.. Miller wants people in finance to talk about ‘wisdom, whatever its source’. To ignore these traditions and thinkers, as the bulk of the industry tends to do, is equivalent to ‘putting on intellectual blinders’, he says.

.. Lending money has long been regarded as a moral matter. So just when and how did most bankers stop seeing their work in moral terms?

Nation’s Biggest Banks Would All Withstand Recession, Fed Says

Next week, they will all have to pass another type of test from the Federal Reserve that is a more subjective measure of the banks’ planning and management processes. In the past, these so-called qualitative reviews have tripped up banks including Citigroup, which failed in 2014 even after demonstrating it had adequate capital.

.. On top of that, several Fed officials have recently said that for the nation’s biggest banks, future tests will become even more difficult, with stricter capital requirements.

.. “We need to have those eight most systemically important institutions more resilient than other banks in the economy,” he said.

.. Investors have worried that weakening employment could bring about an end to a period of low defaults, particularly in automobile lending and credit cards — which have been two areas of growth for the banks.