Is a banker's job good

Secret bank - Bad Boy Banker? A job and its image

Reading time: 15 minutes

Let's imagine: There would be a long night - not the museums - but the banks. We could walk into any bank and ask questions that would be answered honestly: "When will I get a personal advisor who can be reached around the clock?" "What did your most successful dealer earn last year?" "How is your bank really doing?"

That will not happen. Banks remain places of well-kept secrets. Because discretion is everything and if there is transparency, then it is only under pressure from outside.

And so cultural workers and the public create their own idea of ​​a bank, a banker. An idea that changes from decade to decade. How has the image of the industry changed and what is the background?

Ueli Mäder

Open the box Close the box

Ueli Mäder is a professor emeritus for sociology at the University of Basel. His work focuses on social inequality and conflict research. Among other things, he wrote: “How rich think and direct” (Rotpunktverlag 2010), “macht.ch”. Money and Power in Switzerland ”(Rotpunktverlag 2015). In May, “68 - What remains?” Will be published (Rotpunktverlag 2018).

The 1960s: savings, interest, mortgages

Ueli Mäder, professor emeritus for sociology at the University of Basel, has researched social inequality. He remembers banks in the 1960s as follows: “As a child, the savings column had its place and its meaning for me. Later, when I was a teenager, I deposited the money in a class account and we received interest. It felt like a present. "

As a young adult he needed money for a trip and was in his bank: "The clerk looked sternly and said: 'Now money is going away." "That seemed to be something monstrous.

“Bank employees were honest, humble, cautious and paternalistic. A bank hiring manager once told me that a local bank manager drove up a Jaguar in those years. He was asked: 'What should people think?'

Symbolic figure of the banker in the 1960s: «The gentleman with the black bowler hat»: A crime comedy with Walter Roderer in the lead role. The plot goes like this: A bank employee falls in love with a millionaire's daughter, but is not befitting. He quits, steals three million from the bank, saves the world and Switzerland by twists of fate and the script, becomes a hero, the millionaire's daughter falls in love with him, he gives the money back and everyone lives happily ever after.

Image of the banker in the 1960s:Gray mouse, righteous, boring: a bank clerk.

Slogan of the decade: Saving is better than spending.

The 1970s: petrodollars, escape funds and a fiasco

In the 1970s, petrodollars from the oil-producing countries OPEC came onto the money market. In Africa, states are becoming independent, flight funds are being taken out of the country, dirty money is to be laundered. Mäder says, "Chiasso was a striking turning point".

April 14, 1977. The "Neue Zürcher Zeitung" headlines: "Fiasko von Chiasso". The article says: "At a branch of the Schweizer Kreditanstalt in Chiasso there were irregularities and a loss of 250 million."

The Ticino public prosecutor Paolo Bernasconi is investigating four bankers: Elbio Gada, Ernst Kuhrmeier, Claudio Laffranchi and Alfredo Noseda. Millions have been shifted from sources, some of which are dubious. Funds disappear in Liechtenstein and reappear somewhere. Many a million remain gone. In the end, the damage is immense: 1.4 billion.

Symbolic figure of the banker in the 1970s:The bankers from Chiasso.

Image of the banker in the 1970s: The “Basler Zeitung” wrote about the “crack in the image” at the time. There are black and white sheep. There is a need for clarification about illegal and flight money and money laundering.

Slogan of the decade and the consequences: National Bank President Fritz Leutwiler said of the Chiasso affair: “A time bomb that had started to tick at the borders before 1977 had exploded. Action had to be taken. " The result: the National Bank and the Bankers Association are drafting a code to save the good reputation of the financial center. In mid-1977 the “Agreement on Due Diligence in Receiving Money and Handling Banking Secrecy (CDB)” came into force.

The 1980s: The early phase of deregulation and "Wall Street"

Ronald Reagan's tenure is shaped by the economic system of neoliberalism. In America, the markets are being deregulated, which means that regulations are being relaxed. Reagan is privatizing state-owned companies such as airlines to encourage competition, investment and expansion as an economic engine.

Symbolic figure of the banker in the 80s: In the film "Wall Street" Michael Douglas plays a fictional character, Gordon Gecko. He's not a banker, he's a raider. Raiders are speculators who try to take a majority stake in a company by buying shares: unfriendly takeovers. To do this, they always need quick money from banks.

Most impressive picture: Gecko is currently trading in the millions, smokes a chain and measures his blood pressure at the same time, as if the director Oliver Stone wanted to say: The system is and makes you sick, but takes care not to throw it completely off course.

Gecko speculates on rising prices. And uses so-called insider information from companies, i.e. secret internal information from companies, which drive the price higher after becoming known. He always buys before the internals become known. All of this is as forbidden as it is lucrative.

These were cliques that you let go as long as things went well. If it went wrong, billions were gambled away.
Author: Florian WettsteinProfessor of Business Ethics

In order to drive the price even higher, he gives bank traders a “surefire tip”. Since the merchants were rewarded with bonuses for transactions at that time, they no longer only work in the interests of customers, but also in their own interests.

Florian Wettstein

Open the box Close the box

Florian Wettstein is Professor of Business Ethics and Director of the Institute for Business Ethics at the University of St. Gallen. His research focus is on business and human rights.

Florian Wettstein, Director of the Institute for Business Ethics at the University of St. Gallen, says: “In the 1980s, investment banks overtook 'traditional' banking. Speculation is the order of the day. Trading turned over ever larger mountains of money and traders benefited directly from it. New bonus systems of this time made it possible for the stars among the traders to earn even more than their CEO. The balance of power within the banks began to shift. They were cliques, isolated circles that were allowed to work as long as things went well. If it went wrong, billions were gambled away. "

If you ask him what influence this has had on the ethics of the dealers, the answer is tight: «Not a good one. That made the dealers even more competitive. " The focus was increasingly on one's own wallet and no longer on that of the customer. "Wall Street" shows this in the dealers' open-plan offices. They are the sales kings in those years and the bonus knights.

Image of the banker in the 1980s: Bird of paradise instead of gray mouse, thinks of the customer and of yourself. Dirty manicured hands.

Slogan of the decade: "Greed is good!" says Gordon Gecko on Wall Street. Customers, banks, dealers - all are greedy. Greed is far from over.

The 1990s: even more deregulation and the dot-com bubble

The iron curtain falls. New markets, new investments. The Clinton administration continues to deregulate. In 1999 it abolished the legal separation between commercial and investment banks. Banks can speculate on a very large scale.

Symbolic figure of the banker in the 90s: No symbol figures. It is as if an obscure, deserted system were set in motion. The language of those years is striking: there is talk of “the stock exchange”, “the markets”, “the carpet floor”. Linguistically a mixture of generalization, personalization of things and depersonalized anonymization. A "something" works.

Image of the banker in the 1990s: Bankers got an even worse image in the 1990s. They are greedy and have not given timely warnings of the bursting of the dot-com bubble. On the other hand: If there are no greedy necks, there is nothing to stuff. If fewer customers had been so willing to speculate, less risky deals would have come about. But nobody wanted to hear that. The 90s are the systemically important lead-up to the real estate crisis.

Slogan of the decade: "Your money has to work for us" was the slogan of a Swiss bank. With this slogan comes a cultural change. Anyone who wanted to get rich with honest hands up until the 1990s has now been declared crazy. That was not only due to the bank, but also to the zeitgeist.

At some point you no longer knew what you owned and what it was actually about.
Author: Ueli MäderSociologist

The zeitgeist was called: Money work out of itself in the form of shares and achieve fantastic profits. “The customer type has changed significantly,” says Ueli Mäder, professor emeritus for sociology at the University of Basel. Ordinary people began to speculate, cash in on their savings, and watch stock market programs. "Individuals did the same from the operating room," says Mäder.

From the mid-1990s onwards, investments were made in startups from the fast internet industry. Keyword: Dotcom. Trading itself also became faster and more virtual. The next step was “High Frequency Trading”: “Trading in fractions of a second. It was about “arbitrage”, the smallest price differences in currencies, options or stocks. And it was about the smallest time window to take advantage of fluctuations, ”explains Florian Wettstein. «That was extremely volatile. Huge amounts of stocks were bought and resold in seconds with low margins, where perhaps only a penny more could be obtained. But the enormous amounts made it then. There was no room for human or social considerations. It became more and more competitive. "

This cultural change is almost more decisive than the structural one, says Wettstein: “In the 1950s, banker was still a profession like professor, lawyer, doctor. They did what's good for us. With neoliberalism, this assumption is replaced by an understanding of the profession, which means that what is good for me as a banker, the customer also benefits from it. Sometime. That is the core of the change. "

"The concept of property is eroding during this time," says Mäder: "At some point you no longer knew what you owned and what it was actually about."

On March 10, 2000, the party was over, dot-com stocks in freefall. Savings were gone. Pension funds went to their knees.

2000s: The real estate bubble and Lehman

In 2004, during George W. Bush's tenure, the US Securities Commission allowed all investment banks to finance their businesses entirely on credit. This increases the possibility of taking greater risks and also doing business that exceeded the equity cover. For customers, this meant that the protection of their funds was even less.

Symbolic figure of the banker in the 2000s: In films thematizing these years, bankers appear as a faceless mass. Michael Burry, a fund manager who predicted the bursting of the real estate bubble in 2005, could be an exception and a symbolic figure. Christian Bale plays this Burry in the film "The Big Short" as a freak with Asperger's Syndrome.

The object of speculation in the 2000s was bad mortgages: so-called subprimes. They were so bad that they were bundled and repackaged to hide how bad the contents were. In the film "The Big Short", which is about this real estate bubble, someone explains it like this: "We packed dog shit in cat shit and nobody noticed."

Burry suggests that the banks develop and sell a paper that insures losses. A kind of reinsurance for the crash, a so-called swap. That's what the banks do. Burry will buy this reinsurance from 2005 onwards.

To put it bluntly, he is betting on doom and forecasting it for the second quarter of 2007. His forecast comes in, later than expected, but it does. And it finally manifested itself in September 2008 with the collapse of the investment bank Lehman Brothers. The bursting of the real estate bubble and the ensuing banking and financial crisis meant that new, stricter regulatory provisions came into force.

Image of the banker in the 2000s: The banker steals from responsibility, it is said in these years - the responsibility is delegated to the practical constraints or to the rules of the game.

This is not only accused of the bankers, but also of politicians. "The markets expect that from us," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2007 at a press conference. “Who is that supposed to be - the markets?” Ask those bank customers who still assume that business is done by people.

Slogan of the decade: "If we don't do it, the others will do it." The head of a rating agency says the sentence in the film "The Big Short" when asked why she classifies miserable subprimes as the best of the best.

Madeleine Lim

Open the box Close the box

Madeleine Lim works for Bloomberg News in New York, where she is responsible for reporting on global financial markets. She was previously an editor at Dow Jones in New York and London. She has a degree in history from the University of Zurich.

The future

Madeleine Lim studied in Zurich, worked for Dow Jones and is now the chief editor of the Bloomberg News news agency. If you ask her where the journey of international banking is going, she says there is an infinite amount that can be said about it.

But two things seem particularly important: “If you look at the current global political and economic situation, then a lot seems to be in need of clarification at the moment. Investors question China's role in the global economy. Others ask what roles Trump and May intend to play in the near future.

The role of the European Central Bank (ECB) is in focus and the upturn in the emerging markets. But no one is wondering at the moment whether the regulatory requirements for banks need to be relaxed again. Only the banks themselves and some politicians are wondering that. This is all the more surprising given that banks are currently making huge profits. " After all, why should changes be necessary as long as business is up and running?

The robotization of banking will increase in the next few years.
Author: Madeleine LimBusiness editor

The movie

Open the box Close the box

An outsider wants to save her father's life's work - and comes across dark secrets. The SRF two-part "Private Banking" deals with the question of what the changes in the Swiss financial system and the lifting of banking secrecy will mean for the future. The director was Bettina Oberli (“Die Herbstzeitlosen”).

Business ethicist Florian Wettstein sees a trend in the advancing anonymization of the banking system over the past 50 years.

In the 1960s, the branch manager was known by name, and you still knew exactly which few, mostly Swiss, shares you owned.

In today's stock portfolios there are also stocks where the owners hardly know the company. Property has become more anonymous. And banks, too, have now mostly reached anonymous size.

The anonymization will continue, says Madeleine Lim: “The robotization of the banking system will increase in the next few years. In the future, customers will be advised by a computer program based on a customer profile. That will increase sharply, ”says Lim.

That would be one side of the spiral. On the other hand, banks are still run by people and there is less to change with rules than with rethinking. Lim says, “It takes a change in thinking. What needs to change are the values ​​and corporate culture of the banks, especially the reward and promotion system. " The managers are asked, but also the supervisory authorities. And of course the investors too: “That would be all of us, through our pension funds. But that can take years. "

  1. Culture
  2. Current article