Milliband’s call to discipline bankers
It is interesting to read this morning Ed Milliband’s call to impose a code of conduct on bankers, the breaking of which will lead to individuals being ‘struck off’ and unable to work in the industry. This call puts the emphasis on the idea of banking as a profession, on a par with doctors and lawyers, both of which face strict regulation from professional bodies that monitor and, where necessary discipline their members. The most severe form of discipline being the removal of permission to practice.
Part of what is particularly interesting here is how extreme this move will seem to many observers (particularly those within the banking sector itself). However, there is a long tradition of the idea of banking as a profession – it has long been overseen by professional bodies, bodies which have a role in accrediting members and holding them to codes of conduct (for example the Chartered Insurance Institute, founded in 1873).
Moreover, banking as an activity exhibits many of the features most significant in identifying a profession – bankers have specialised skills and knowledge; they have significantly more knowledge about their activity than clients (and other affected parties) due to the nature of the work; they have often acquired such knowledge and skills through a long period of training and study; and as a result of this specialised expertise, they have gained significant power to affect individual clients or wider society. This last point is nowhere better illustrated than in the effects of the recent crisis.
Seen in this light, Milliband’s idea is, in many ways, not new or novel at all. What is significant is the idea that bankers must be accredited by a professional body in order to practice. Not only would this ensure much greater scrutiny of those working in the industry (many of whom have no affiliation at all), it would also help reconnect the sector as a whole with its roots in a professional activity with a social purpose. For all these reasons such a move would be a good one.