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An analyst’s view on changing banking culture from within

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Something that most people can agree on is that banking culture has to change, but a fresh perspective is needed, writes a graduate analyst working at a major Canary Wharf bank.

For every graduate position in investment banking, there are 135 graduates competing for each place. There is plenty of choice of new employees. I have recently joined the new starters at a big investment bank, the so-called ‘bad side’ of banking, the risk-takers, the gamblers, or even, the screw-ups. Yet, if we are ever to move forward into a sustainable, healthy, transparent and trustworthy banking system – this banker bashing has to stop. Now.

Imagine a scenario where you feel part of a group who is in conflict with another. For example, the heated cyclist v motorist debate. Research into group dynamics and intergroup conflict have shown that this encourages a greater divide between the groups and “us v them” attitude (e.g. Intergroup Cognition and Intergroup Behaviour by Sedikides, Schopler and Insko, 1998). It leads to reinforcing internal group behaviour. Eventually each group will resist collaboration and persuasive arguments for change.

Already as individuals, we pay greater attention to information that reinforce our own beliefs and we ignore, or manipulate, evidence that contradicts our beliefs. This is an effect known as cognitive dissonance. When backed by a whole group of people with similar beliefs, the ability to think critically and be willing to change diminishes. Critical thinking and adaptability are key skills that investment professionals should possess if they want to do best by their clients.

Now imagine a critical teacher and no matter how hard you have tried to improve, they are always telling you that you’re not good enough. There hasn’t been enough improvement. How would you react to this? Some people would take it in their stride, endeavour to prove their teacher wrong or at least, do sufficiently good for their own standards. Some however, would give up.

It’s not worth putting more effort into a task if you are not seeing a greater outcome. This second scenario is what we are in danger of creating now in the investment world. Too much negative attention is not healthy for inciting change in behaviour. This is where banker bashing is currently leading us – it’s widening the divide between bankers and the wealthy from the rest of the population.

Be the change you want to see in the world”: the condensed paraphrasing of Ghandi’s philosophy that conveniently fits on a bumper sticker. This slogan resonates with a lot of people who live their lives with a strong moral compass. Yet, there are few who will commit to a career in banking in order to change banking culture.

Banks are a necessary part of our society, economy and world. The Move Your Money organisation encourages people to influence banks’ investment strategies by switching from the ‘big bad banks’ to the smaller, local banks or building societies that make ethical and sustainable investments. The idea is to incentivise ethical banking and encourage it in the mainstream.

However, external pressure and boycotting is not the only way to achieve the same end. I argue that it is time-consuming and not as effective as having the big banks change their own behaviour. Bluntly speaking, the banks need the activists to be employees. It’s easier to change a group’s behaviour from inside. After all, you’re more likely to listen to a friend or colleague than someone from an opposing or competing group.

Michael McMillan of the CFA Institute argues that investment professionals need to behave more like whistleblowers and “take responsibility for the investment products and services that they recommend”. He adds, “Executives and managers at financial institutions need to create an organisational culture in which critical thinking, scepticism, and dissent are welcomed and encouraged.” People who are committed to causing change in order to better the world and environment do think critically and are not afraid to speak out when something is morally wrong.

Banks are meant to be places you can trust with your money and financing the world’s economies. They need to be staffed by trustworthy people. Banks in turn need external support from the wider community.

Two of the main problems that bankers get bashed for are risky speculation and bonuses. Banks need to rethink their incentives to attract the best talent with strong moral fibre. One way, would be to place less incentive on monetary profit and instead incentivise philanthropic and sustainable behaviours.

For some top graduates one thing prevails over money: their ability to make a positive impact. Banks are powerful and have the influence to be catalysts for change. There are three changes to be made: incentivising innovation in customer service and ethical investment products, reducing with the aim to eliminate incentives on the financing of unsustainable industries and demonstrating to the labour market concrete examples of the positive impact bankers can and do have on wider society. As Cath Tillotson of the Scorpio Partnership said, the wealthy can be “a positive force in society”.

These three changes are to the structure of how banks recruit and maintain staff. These changes do not need to be dictated by government but can be commenced immediately by the banks themselves. All you need is the willingness of those with power to adapt and change. Those people are the employees of the bank, especially the senior management.

There is the other side though, the more important side. These three changes are aimed at attracting those already interested in sustainability, ethics and social responsibility. The other side is up to those people.

They need to be willing to enter a broken system with the attitude that change starts from within. They will need to challenge the status quo, be courageous leaders and critical thinkers. You need activists, government and external pressure. However, external pressure will not work without bankers being willing to change.

If you are passionate about sustainability and making a positive impact on this Earth, then have the courage to go fix an unsustainable, wilfully blind, work culture and do so from within. To attract investors, you do not only need good returns but long-term sustainability and trust.

Name and contact details supplied.

Further reading:

Graduates are snubbing banks, but all banks are not the same

Sustainable banks more ‘robust and resilient’ than high street institutions

One responsible banking system to rule them all

What’s gone wrong with finance?

The Guide to Sustainable Banking 2012

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.

Deadheading

Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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