The business culture in the banking sector implicitly favours dishonest behaviour, finds a study that could explain why cases of fraud in the banking industry have become common.
The researchers, however, said that bank employees are in principle not more dishonest than their colleagues in other industries.
"Our results suggest that the social norms in the banking sector tend to be more lenient towards dishonest behaviour and thus contribute to the reputational loss in the industry," said Michel Marechal, professor at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.
For the study, the scientists recruited approximately 200 bank employees, 128 from a large international bank and 80 from other banks. The bankers were then divided into two groups - an experimental group and a control group.
In the experimental group, the participants were reminded of their occupational role and the associated behavioural norms with appropriate questions.
In contrast, the people in the control group were reminded of their non-occupational role in their leisure time and the associated norms.
Subsequently, all participants completed a task that would allow them to increase their income by up to $200 if they behaved dishonestly.
The result was that bank employees in the experimental group, where their occupational role in the banking sector was made salient, behaved significantly more dishonestly.
A very similar study was then conducted with employees from various other industries.
Unlike the bankers, however, the employees in these other industries were not more dishonest when reminded of their occupational role.
The banks could encourage honest behaviour by changing the industry's implicit social norms, one of the corresponding authors Alain Cohn from the University of Chicago added.
"Several experts and supervisory authorities suggest, for example, that bank employees should take a professional oath, similar to the Hippocratic Oath for physicians," Cohn said.
The study appeared in the journal Nature.