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NWO grant of one million euro for project on trusting banks

Prof. dr. Boudewijn de Bruin (Economics and Business, and Philosophy, University of Groningen) and Prof. dr. Alex Oliver (Philosophy and Judge Business School, Cambridge University) were awarded a one million euro grant from NWO for a collaborative project on Trusting Banks, with two PhD students and two post docs.
De Bruin
De Bruin

Banking ‘most distrusted industry’

The economic crisis that followed the 2007 subprime mortgage meltdown is, among other things, a crisis of trust. The well-known Edelman Trust Barometer (2011) reports that trust in banks has declined tremendously over the last three years, while at the same time trust in other industries and government has not undergone significant change. Banks, the study concludes, are ‘the most distrusted global industry’.

High social costs

But if citizens and companies distrust banks—and if banks distrust citizens and companies—a chilling effect will spread through the economy. It will be more difficult for companies to obtain credit and for citizens to obtain mortgages. The economy will slow down, unemployment will rise, and companies—or countries—will go bust. This has already happened. The social costs we pay for an untrustworthy banking sectors are very high.

 

Too optimistic about Banking Code?

A few months after the sudden and dramatic collapse of the US investment bank Lehman Brothers in September 2008, an influential white paper was published under the auspices of the Netherlands Bankers Association, entitled Restoring Trust. This paper led to the well- known Banking Code in the Netherlands, which has been active since January 2010.

While the speed with which the Dutch government responded to the global economic crisis is certainly to be applauded, the available evidence cautions us not to be too optimistic about the effectiveness of the Code so far. Ethicists provide important insights from which policy makers and the banking sector can benefit greatly in their attempts to restore trust. But the concepts of trust and trustworthiness have not yet taken centre stage. 

Trust and trustworthiness

In the research proposed here, these concepts of trust and trustworthiness are central. The overall aim is to assess ways to restore trust and trustworthiness in banking by answering the following four questions:
  • what virtues do banks have to possess in order to be trustworthy (the motivation requirement of trustworthiness);
  • what skills and knowledge do banks have to possess in order to be trustworthy (the competence requirement of trustworthiness);
  • what obligations do banks have to trust their clients (the duties required by well-placed trust); and
  • how can citizens ensure that they trust only those banks that are trustworthy (the evidence required by well-placed trust).

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Prof. dr. Boudewijn de Bruin
Last modified:04 July 2014 9.33 p.m.

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