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Banking attracts untrustworthy individuals who are then revered as child prodigies

When idolatry goes awry

Two new studies cast an unfavourable light on the sorts of people who go into banking careers and the way non-finance people relate to them. Finance, it seems, attracts selfish people whom no one quite trusts, but who are then idolized as child geniuses.

If you're interested in a finance career, you're probably not that trustworthy... 

The first study, by academics at Goethe University Frankfurt, found that merely being interested in a job in finance is an indication that you're not an especially trustworthy person. Moreover, when other people know that you're interested in a career in finance, they will immediately trust you less.

The Goethe academics set up a series of experiments in which students and finance professionals were invited to give each other money, and then to have a portion of that money returned to them.

In the first experiment, person A was given money to donate person B. That money was tripled along the way and person B was invited to return the higher sum to person A (who didn't know the money had increased in value). The experimenters found that people with a high interest in finance careers (regardless of whether they'd actually worked in finance) returned 25% less to person A than those with a low interest in the industry.

Most interestingly, people with a high interest in financial careers were particularly predisposed to returning nothing at all to person A. 33% of people with a high interest in finance careers kept all the money for themselves and gave nothing back, compared to 14% of people with a low interest in finance.  Non-finance-interested participants in the study seemed to sense this - in a second experiment, people who were known to be highly interested in finance careers were given 8% less than people who weren't.

'The financial industry with its materialistic values and high bonuses attracts rather selfish individuals," concluded the Goethe researchers.

Whether you're trustworthy or not, banks will hire you and non-finance professionals will idolize you nonetheless 

While not being wholly trustworthy might be an issue on a personal level, it won't affect your chances of getting into banking. The Goethe researchers spoke to banks' HR teams and found bank they weren't too bothered about whether the people they hired were to be trusted - they were more interested in previous finance experience, analytical and communication skills and the ability to work in teams. (Teamwork clearly requires trust, but the banks didn't seem to find this an issue.)

Meanwhile, another study from Michael Schulman, a PhD psychologist and faculty member at the University of Michigan, suggests that much as bankers can get trapped in a narcissistic feedback loop with the rest of society.

Not only do finance professionals think of themselves as special, says Schulman, but they're treated as special by people outside the industry (or at least they used to be).  Before the financial crisis, people in banking were treated as 'child geniuses,' says Schulman, and were invested with fantastical qualities that they didn't actually possess.

Schulman says the upshot of this was that people working in finance were granted, 'unprecedented freedom from external restraint' by people who idolized them and trusted in their, 'special genius.'  When that narcissistic relationship broke down, all the special hopes that had been invested in the banking community broke down with it.

Related articles:

The amorality of the senior rainmaker on a pitch

How to spot psychopaths, narcissists and Machiavellians, based upon behavior before bonus time

The seven mental disorders most prevalent in financial services



AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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