The Misdirection of Bankers’ Moral Compass in the Organizational Field of Banking

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This article presents the results of a survey on banking culture in the Netherlands. It shows that despite behavioural regulation by the state, bankers continue to be driven by the underlying rationalization in the banking field which is characterized by utility maximization. Moreover, the downsizing of the sector has turned the incentives of targets from positive to negative, while distrust and lack of moral leadership further constrain bankers’ use of their moral compass. An increase in state regulation leads to extensive compliance procedures but does not act as a support for ethical guidance in addressing client interests in a complex and uncertain environment. Bankers feel squeezed between increased legal constraints and ever more detailed rationalization in the banking field, which reduces the space to use their moral compass. This study argues that a change in banking culture should therefore address the field’s rationalization itself, rather than adding more behavioural regulation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)507-526
Number of pages20
JournalCambridge Journal of Economics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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