Magazine article The Spectator

What Bankers Must Do to Earn Customers' Trust

Magazine article The Spectator

What Bankers Must Do to Earn Customers' Trust

Article excerpt

Revd 'Budge' Firth, preaching more than half a century ago, reminded the City of its moral obligations

It is required of stewards, that a man be found faithful.

1 Corinthians iv 2

In preparing this address, I thought at once of the text which I have chosen, and searched no further. For a steward is one who is entrusted with the safety, the good condition and the use of the property of somebody else. He is a highly responsible agent, an expert in his own department; he has to take decisions, often far-reaching, on his own, without the beneficiary being compelled to check, or even being able to check, what he is doing.

Yet all the time he must remember that the property is not his own; the true steward never forgets that he is a steward only, acting for a principal.

Now in this way and now in that, all the great professions have in them this element of stewardship; and Our Lord Himself, during his earthly ministry, made it clear that He was not here to do His own will but the will of the Father. The clergy are bidden to be ministers of God's word and faithful dispensers of God's sacraments. Teachers are set to be faithful dispensers of truth, moral and intellectual alike, to children who are not their own. It is the first rule of true medicine that it always puts the patient first.

But of no profession in the world is it more obviously and directly the case than it is of your own that its members are called to be stewards. You - the bankers - are stewards in the clearest possible sense, for you look after the public's money, and do for the public what it could not do for itself, or at least would be very ill-advised to attempt.

One sign of your stewardship is the unquestioning trust reposed in you by your clients. People pay into you across the counter their money, about which they very reasonably care a great deal, with absolute confidence - not only without questioning but without giving the basic principle of the system, or its mechanism, a single thought.

They just know that all will be well with their money, and that the amount of their deposit will be there for them to draw upon whenever they like. If this were not so, the consequences, material and psychological, would be immediate and grave; but it is so. What is more, people simply assume that, when they consult their bank - and they often talk frankly, really talk, to their bank managers - they will get the advice which is the best for them, both enlightened and disinterested.

In these facts you will, I am sure, find much of your deepest professional satisfaction and your richest professional reward.

And they are very remarkable facts. In the long and, at times, chequered history of banking, this public confidence has not always been present. But it certainly exists now. It has grown up through many generations, by goodwill and confidence steadily accumulated and - perhaps we may dare to say - in our own country to an unsurpassed degree, and in a mode somewhat special to ourselves.

Our race, in diverse and notable ways, has developed concerns originally of private origin into public institutions - not at all necessarily publicly owned, but in the widest sense public-spirited. What was at first founded for the honourable, but limited, purpose of private profit has become, imperceptibly, a branch of the national service. …

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