A Culture of Greed

October 1, 2018 at 8:16 am Leave a comment

The Royal Commission into financial institutions has exposed the way in which banks and insurance companies have for years been focused on maximizing profits and benefits to employees rather than serve the people.  The federal government was reluctant to have a Royal Commission believing it was not required.  Fortunately, the Royal Commission has come about and what it has revealed is startling.  Financial institutions have a culture of greed rather than service.


While banks and insurance companies are meant to make a profit, they are primarily meant to provide services to people in a considerate way.  In the past bank managers for example would have been regarded as among the most trustworthy of people.  They were seen as people who assisted with loans and enabled people to manage their finances.  Employees in banks were held to be helpful people who could give financial advice.  What the Royal Commission has exposed is a culture in banks in which profits and bonuses are the motivating factors.  We might not have been so surprised if it was less reputable banks that had these revelations but it is all the major banks that have been found out to be essentially based on greed.  We have heard about financial charges being taken from people when no service whatsoever was provided.  We have heard of banks continuing to charge people for services even when these have been asked to be cancelled.


The basis on which employees in banks have received finances and bonuses has been on the basis of how much they have been able to sign people up for.  Maximising how much they can talk people into rather than assisting people to use their finances wisely and carefully has been the approach.  CEOs of banks have not only allowed but encouraged this culture which they are caught up in also as they receive huge salaries and bonuses often not even based on performance.


The insurance companies have been exposed in similar ways.  They too are based on maximising profits rather than providing cover for people when misfortune comes. They too have people trying to sign people up for insurance beyond what the people need.  This has even meant speaking to people with mental disabilities who struggle to understand what is being said and signing them up to insurance they do not need.  They have even refused to cancel policies when people asked for them to be discontinued.


When people do need to make claims due to accidents, fires, floods etc the insurance companies have been very reluctant to pay out.  People whose homes have been destroyed by fire for example have had not only to cope with the loss of treasured homes and possessions but also had to argue with insurance companies to get what their cover said.  Delays have been all too common.  Seeking to find ways not to pay out or not the full amount has been the approach of the insurance companies.  The insurance companies have not provided the service they were set up to provide.  One company with the claim that it would provide ‘exceptional service’ has been shown to provide anything but that.


As mentioned earlier, the problem is a culture of greed, a systemic problem.  Hence it is not one bank or one insurance company but rather characterises banks and insurance companies generally.  This is especially disconcerting when it is all the major banks and well-known insurance companies.  People in the community have been taken advantage of because they assumed the banks and insurance companies were there to assist.  A culture of greed in an organization means it influences all who work there and becomes the way of functioning.  It is not recognized as wrong but as simply how the organization makes its profits.


We live in a capitalistic society in which money and profits are given high priority.  Unfortunately, this has led to a culture of greed in which people focus on what they can gain at the expense of others.  This is the negative side of capitalism.  Capitalism is meant to encourage enterprise and people finding ways to make a living.  When greed becomes the driving force then service and assisting people is lost sight of.  It becomes little more than criminal activity.  The banks and insurance companies have crossed the line into criminal activity in some instances.  Even when they are still within the law, they are functioning out of self interest not the interest of their clients.


Profits are not wrong but greed is. The emphasis should be on service first and making a profit second.  Any enterprise that focuses on profit rather than benefit the client has got it wrong.  Jesus warned about greed.  At one point, Jesus said to a man, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).  Our capitalist and consumerist society would do well to heed Jesus’ words here.  Jesus placed great emphasis on service.  He told his disciples not to be like others saying, “But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44).  Jesus himself was the supreme example of the servant leader, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).


The banks and insurance companies need now to work at changing their culture of greed around so that they have a culture of service first.  That is what is required for the sake of the community.  I would even venture to say that employees will have greater job satisfaction if they can feel they are benefitting others rather than taking advantage of them. The way of avoiding greed and emphasising service as Jesus recommends is in fact the best way to live.






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