Financial Times recently printed an article about a study done by researchers at the University of Zurich which suggested that bankers have a tendency to lie for financial gain. The study used a control group and treatment group of bankers. The bankers in the control group were asked questions about their everyday life (for example, “How many hours of television do you watch per week?”). The bankers in the treatment group were asked questions relating to what they did at work as a banker. They then gave each group a coin, had them toss it ten times, and then had them self-report their results. The participants were told beforehand whether heads or tails would count as a success. If no cheating took place, the average amount of heads compared to tails should have been very close to 50/50 for each group. In the control group this was the case, but the group who had been primed with thinking about their profession as bankers reported 58.2% winning tosses. From these results, the researchers estimate that 26% of the bankers in the treatment group cheated.
This same study was performed in other industries, such as pharmaceuticals, telecoms, IT, and students. For these other groups there was no significant difference in the results between the treatment group and the control group. One of the researchers concluded that bankers “behave on average honestly in a control situation,… [but] when their identity as bank employees is made salient, a significant proportion of them become dishonest.” These results suggest that the culture in the banking industry leads people who would otherwise be honest to do dishonest things. Steps need to be taken in order to reinstate an honest, ethical culture in the banking industry.