• Chart of the Week
  • June 8, 2020

Financial culture

Businessmen walk along Canary Wharf in London.

IR Stone

A greedy, unscrupulous financier who scoffs at the rules is a Hollywood trope for movies about Wall Street. 

Those depictions are exaggerations, but bankers do appear to have a somewhat different culture than the rest of society, according to a paper in the 2020 issue of AEA Papers and Proceedings.

Authors Nava Ashraf, Oriana Bandiera, and Alexia Delfino compared bankers' values at a single multinational company with those of their fellow citizens. They surveyed over thirty-eight thousand employees across fifty-five countries about what qualities they wanted to pass on to their children.

The researchers found that bankers tended to put more emphasis on values like determination, imagination, and tolerance. And they had less concern about unselfishness, obedience, and thrift compared to the rest of their society.

Moreover, some of these values appeared to be driven by the incentives that the bank created for moving up the company ladder.

Figure 3 from the authors’ paper illustrates how values impacted employees' financial performance ratings (blue diamonds) and prospects for promotion (red diamonds). Both financial performance and promotion potential were assessed by a supervisor on a scale from one to four. (The bars are 95 percent confidence intervals.)



Figure 3 from Ashraf et al. (2020)


The x-axis indicates how much respondents’ performance score changed on average if they mentioned a certain value among their top five.

The estimates that are positive—to the right of the red vertical line at zero—are an indication that employees with that value in their top five had a higher performance score than their peers who did not.

Notably, bankers who put determination in their top five were more likely to get better scores on their financial performance and promotion potential. And those who put thrift, obedience, and religious faith among their top five were less likely to do well on both performance metrics.