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Justice in the banking industry

The words ‘justice’, ‘Christianity’, and ‘Banking’ don’t often appear together in the same sentence. For many, banking is associated with the exact opposite of justice, especially after the 2008 credit crisis that had such a devastating effect around the world. I’m certainly not going to deny that social justice was pretty far from the minds of those that caused the crash, and it’s completely understandable that the callous actions of those involved in the crisis and too many other scandals before and since are enough to dissuade socially conscious Christians from pursuing a career in banking. If you fit into this category, I would ask you to reconsider (and if you’re feeling generous, carry on reading).

 

There is much to be said about the theology behind finance and its relationship with the Kingdom and it’s a very, very interesting discussion, but when praying about what to write for this blog post, I felt led in a different direction. Many people I’ve spoken to in Just Love would never consider a career in finance, seeing this as the exact opposite of a Godly, justice-seeking career. I hope that this post may convince you otherwise; though it is of course vital that people passionate about justice take jobs in ministry, at NGOs, and in politics, I firmly believe there are many of us that could do a huge amount of good in a corporate role, and I think that it is the least well-off that often lose out by those who care passionately about justice not being there.


I am hugely grateful to much discussion with great friends in Just Love for helping me come to this conclusion; throughout most of my time at university, I never saw myself graduating and going to work for a bank. When I was in school I applied to a large bank’s scholarship programme to get university funding, knowing that there would likely be a job offer at the end of the compulsory internship, but I always saw myself working in a different field; at an NGO, in the Civil Service, in politics. I have always wanted to use my career to make some difference to the huge challenges facing the world, and while at Oxford I spent my spare time (and a good chunk of study time) working with Just Love in HTAG and Homeless Outreach, and with Kite on our youth mentorship project in Nairobi. After all this, it came as a surprise to lots of my friends and family (and, not insignificantly, to me) when I took up my job in commercial banking in September.

Before I get heckled for selling out to the man (though gender diversity in banking is increasing), I’d ask you to hear out three reasons for a Christian interested in a career in social justice to consider banking, or any of the other corporate careers likely to get you good-naturedly roasted for by your friends (consulting, accounting, corporate law; the ones you have a load of unopened leaflets for from the careers fair you went to in first year). I’m still as passionate about pursuing God’s call to social justice as I was at university and before,

 

I’m not qualified to go into the theology of banking’s relationship to Christianity, though at a recent talk on the relationship between the two from a senior exec at Goldman Sachs, I was assured that there would still be financial services in the renewed Heaven and renewed Earth (I remain unsure if Christians in the workforce at the Second Coming get a bonus). I’m more hesitant to speculate on God’s eschatological economic policy, but what is true, and what emerged from discussion with the other bankers at the talk, was that right now, finance is both very important, and does a lot of good, with the capacity to do a lot more. Yes, there are of course the many, many scandals and great injustices committed by professionals in the industry, but unless capitalism is imminently overhauled, we need financial services for our economy and society to run, and for all the amazing social progress that is being made to happen. The reason that big banks were bailed out in the crash isn’t because of government corruption or shady deals; it’s because they are so vital to the effective running of our country.

 

If you remain sceptical on this point, I’d be very happy to further discuss the role of finance in our society, its role in the Kingdom, its role in the Bible, and anything in between. Without going into further detail and debate on this here, though, I would ask you to accept two truths with me: that finance, right now, is very important, and that there is a lot of good to be done using everything at the disposal of organisations like banks. When thinking about career options out of uni, these truths lead to three advantages of a career in banking or another corporate role (and of course, as is mandatory, they’re alliterative):

 

1) Development

 

Corporate jobs are a great place to learn skills and develop personally. There are times when I feel that I’m being paid to understand how finance works, which is pretty great. Finance is not only vital to the operation of commerce and society as a whole, so a great thing to be able to have a grasp of, but can also often be very opaque, cloaked in acronyms and technical language despite being very simple at heart. It’s a great privilege to have the opportunity to gain a very detailed understanding and practical experience whilst getting paid to do so.

 

This is something that many non-corporate jobs do not have the resources to do; few charities can pay for their graduate employees to take finance or accounting qualifications, for example, and may not be able to give you the space to learn more about the wider industry or economy when you are thrust straight into work with tight staff numbers and resources. Of course, working at an organisation like a charity or church has many different and amazing opportunities for personal development that you won’t get in a bank, and it is without doubt hugely important to prayerfully consider the opportunity best for you. What I’d urge, though, is that the choice you make now does not define the rest of your career, even though it seems so important now; people change jobs and sectors all the time, and it can be so valuable to move into work with an NGO, for example, with skills and experience that you couldn’t have gained from being with them from the beginning. Working in a corporate job gives you amazing opportunities for skills and experience that will come in really useful whichever field you end up in.

 

2) Dollar

 

Perhaps the most immediately obvious point of a corporate career: the vast majority pay a lot of money. Strangely this fact, which makes them so attractive to many other students, can have exactly the opposite effect with Christians and those who care about social justice. Christians don’t talk about money enough, and what we earn and how we spend it is often a strangely taboo topic, despite Jesus talking about it an awful lot in the Gospels. To be very open about my opinion, then: you shouldn’t be inherently ashamed about having a job that pays a lot of money. What does matter a huge amount, though, is how you steward that money.

 

We must ultimately remember that our money and the resources that it purchases aren’t ultimately ours but are God’s, and must use our salaries accordingly; in my personal experience, this is very much something I need to constantly remind myself of, and I think it is something that we as the church need to be an awful lot less awkward about talking about, stopping bashfully asking very well-off people to give money to causes that will do so much good for those God’s heart cries out for. It’s not our money, and it’s a huge injustice to hoard it for ourselves instead of using it as God wants, most of all when we are surrounded by so much easily preventable suffering. With this in mind, earning a large salary is a huge responsibility, but also an amazing opportunity to make sure that money is directed to preventing injustice rather than perpetuating it.

 

3) Decisions

 

Senior executives in banks make very important decisions. This can be seen no more clearly than in the example of the credit crisis; decisions made by bankers (though not bankers alone) were responsible for the most serious recession since the 1930s, leading to unemployment, austerity, and untold misery disproportionately affecting the least well-off in society. Within our country, the crisis has been and led to some of the greatest injustices in our lifetimes: families reliant on food banks, people with disabilities unable to afford a basic standard of living, children eating one meal a day, those struck down by illness unable to afford vital treatment. These injustices were all caused by already extremely wealthy people in positions of great power seeking even more for themselves.

 

Some interested in pursuing a career that promotes social justice might hear this and immediately conclude that they want to work as far away from finance as possible. I would urge you to reconsider, and suggest that the exact opposite is true. Finance needs people of integrity; people who care about justice; people who have the self-discipline and commitment to listen to God ahead of their own self-interest. If we don’t have people like this in these positions of immense power, we’ll just keep having crises. With such people in top jobs, though, the immense capacity and influence of these institutions can do a huge amount of good.

 

Assuming that at least someone has read this far, I hope that, if you are considering what job to choose and take seriously God’s call to social justice, these facts will encourage you to take seriously a career in finance or another corporate role not typically seen as a good Christian career path. Of course, there are real challenges, and I am by no means the paragon of banking virtue; I do not yet have much influence in decision-making, and though I give away a third of my salary, this is definitely not enough. I pray for God’s grace where I trip up (which is often). At the same time, I’m so excited for everything I’m learning, and so thankful for the amazing community of Christians I have around me in similar jobs as we support each other, and for my brilliant colleagues in work, Christian and non-Christian alike. I firmly believe that banking is changing for the better, and I would love for more passionate people on fire for God and for justice to help make that happen.

Zach Smith | Worcester Alumnus

1 thought on “Justice in the banking industry

  1. SPOY LYSM Zach. More acronyms. What a brilliant inspiring moving blog… from a Yorkshireman- a breed not well known for generosity! Now can I borrow a tenner? 😉

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