Despite its role in creating the financial crisis of 2008 and the ensuing Great Recession, the financial services industry continues to be one of the most powerful in both the U.S. and abroad. Banks and other financial services companies are back to making huge profits and handing out large bonuses, while lobbying against reforms aimed at preventing a repeat of 2008.
In the U.S., few have stood up to the banking industry. But over in the UK, the banks have earned themselves a new critic: the Church of England. The Church submitted a comment to a parliamentary commission investigating the LIBOR rate rigging scandal that called on the banks to make a “public, corporate contrition for past failings”:
The financial crises and emerging scandals of recent years have…raised profound concern not simply about the ability of the system to prevent extreme and criminal behavior by individuals but about the system itself and a whole cadre of professionals within it. The question is not whether systems have been adequate to identify and deal with the bad apples but whether the whole orchard needs replanting. [...]
One insight from the Christian tradition of penitence and forgiveness is that is often not enough to put matters back to where they were before things went wrong; some demonstration of a change of heart by means of restitution and a visibly robust refusal to let the same failings occur again is necessary before a bad situation can be made good…. To achieve this is not just a matter of technical “fixes” but may require public, corporate contrition for past failings…and possibly some symbolic steps to assure the public that the corporate culture has changed.
Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown, director of the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council, told the Wall Street Journal, “you need to rethink how banking is done so that good people can flourish and good people can do good things.” Here in the U.S., meanwhile, a group of nuns have been touring the country focusing on a different public policy issue: the detrimental effect budget cuts will have on low-income families.