When I started teaching business ethics at London Business School in the mid-1980s, it was still an emerging discipline. Twenty-five years later, it is a substantial field of inquiry, with its own well-developed research literature and countless textbooks. Courses in business ethics are offered at all of the world’s leading business schools and many of those courses are required. However, despite the recent financial crisis and the ensuing popular debate, the ethics of finance is even less developed now than business ethics was then. There is a widespread view, both in the business schools and in financial firms, that ethics is somehow not relevant to finance.
Few people outside the finance community would have much truck with this proposition. Much of finance is, of course, very technical, but then so is much of medicine. That doesn’t make medical ethics any less important. And while the financial sector may not impact physically on people’s lives in the way that the health sector and pharmaceutical firms impact on patients, or mining impacts on employees and communities, it evidently does have a significant impact, both directly on its customers and indirectly on society at large. If business ethics matters, as I believe it does, then so does the ethics of finance.