A Swiss study has set out to establish once and for all whether bankers are scheming, untrustworthy scoundrels.
The study of more than 200 international bankers put their honesty to the test and found them to be fundamentally decent human beings, until they were reminded about what they did for a living.
At that point, the research team discovered they began cheating on their tests.
Interestingly, that result was not replicated when sample groups from other professions were asked to complete similar tests.
Behavioural economists Alain Cohn, Ernst Fehr and Michel André Maréchal laid out their findings in a report entitled Business Culture and Dishonesty in the Banking Industry.
In the wake of a series of finance industry scandals, the team set out to test the bankers’ honesty with a simple coin-tossing test.
“They were asked to flip a coin 10 times and to self-report the outcomes of the coin flip,” Mr Cohn explained to The World Today.
“Their behaviour in the coin tossing task is a measure of their dishonest behaviour.”
In order to test that behaviour, the researchers also gave the bankers a financial incentive to lie about their results.
“They could cheat to increase their earnings,” Mr Cohn said.
“For example, in the first coin flip they knew that heads would give them $US20 and so, because they knew that heads would give them a good outcome, they could easily cheat and hide behind chance.”
But the researchers knew that, given half a chance, the promise of easy money could result in many non-bankers cheating on their results as well.
So, to refine their methodology, they first split their cohort of bankers into two groups.