Accountability to society still not a high priority for many banks and insurers

kristy Reforming Global Finance, SRI/ESG News

A Shocking Report from THE ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNIT!, Hazel Henderson, Editor

For immediate release: Tuesday,18th September 2012

Accountability to society still not a high priority for many banks and insurers, finds Economist Intelligence Unit study

Five years on from the start of the financial crisis, being a socially responsible corporate citizen is still not a top priority for many business leaders in financial services, new research from the Economist Intelligence Unit shows.

In a global survey conducted for Society, shareholders and self-interest: Accountability of business leaders in financial services, an EIU report sponsored by SAS, an overwhelming majority (84%) of C-level banking and insurance executives say meeting short-term performance targets is their main priority. A considerably smaller proportion (62%) thinks being socially responsible is also important.

The C-suite in finance considers itself most accountable to the board (90%), followed by regulators (79%) and investors (74%). Only 54% of finance leaders see themselves as accountable to society. When asked who or what they should become more accountable to, the most popular choices for these executives are CEO, investors and the board. The least popular choices are society, employees and the government or state.

Nonetheless, the high level of public scrutiny since the crisis has had a perceptible impact at the top of the sector. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of the executives in the survey say that their companies are making conscious efforts to improve the transparency and accuracy of the information they share with external stakeholders. Just under two-thirds (65%) also say that they encourage stakeholders to ask questions and scrutinise their performance.

Among those interviewed for this report are Royal Bank of Scotland Chairman Sir Philip Hampton and ING Bank Vice-Chairman Koos Timmermans. “There are both worrying and hopeful signs that the financial services sector has learnt its lessons from the crash,” says Abhik Sen, editor of the report. “By and large the sector still does not consider itself very accountable to somewhat nebulous stakeholders such as society. On the other hand, there seems to be a growing awareness at the C-level that the crisis has changed the rules of the game forever.”

Other key findings from the report include:

• Top managers in finance do not think their remuneration is excessive, and public criticism is having little impact on pay policies. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of senior finance executives surveyed believe they are simply paid what they are worth. Only a minority of them (29%) think that factors such as a tarnished public image or investor criticism have a greater influence on C-level remuneration today.

• Investment banking is becoming more sensitive to public perception, but accountability to society is still not a top priority. Over one-half (53%) of respondents from investment banking agree that factors such as public opinion have more of an influence on risk appetite and pay. However, only 34% see themselves as highly accountable to society at large, compared to nearly 70% of retail or commercial bankers who do.

• Attitudes to accountability and risk management vary markedly between finance CEOs and CFOs. Only 16% of banking and insurance CEOs – compared to 33% of CFOs – think business leaders should be more accountable to society in general. And when asked what kind of impact public opinion is having on the “willingness of C-level executives to take responsibility for failure or misdemeanours”, only 13% of CEOs said that it was having more influence than a few years ago, compared to 41% of CFOs who said the same.

Society, shareholders and self-interest: accountability of business leaders in financial services
is available free to download at:

Press enquiries:
Joanne McKenna, Press Liaison, +44 20 7576 8188; [email protected]
Abhik Sen, Editor, +44 207 576 8338; [email protected]

About the research

The Economist Intelligence Unit conducted an online global survey of 387 executives in April/May 2012. All of the respondents were C-level executives, and two-thirds were from companies with global annual revenue in excess of US$500m. Nearly one-third of the respondents were from companies in western Europe; 28% were based in Asia-Pacific and 27% were headquartered in North America. Over three-quarters of the respondents (78%) were from the financial services sector, including 21% from insurance and reinsurance, 20% from investment banking and capital markets, and 19% from retail banking and commercial banking, respectively. To place the views of senior finance executives in some context, the remaining respondents in the survey (22%) were drawn from the C-level in the energy and utilities industries. To complement the survey results, the Economist Intelligence Unit conducted in-depth interviews with several independent experts and senior business executives.

About the Economist Intelligence Unit
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) is the world’s leading resource for economic and business research, forecasting and analysis. It provides accurate and impartial intelligence for companies, government agencies, financial institutions and academic organisations around the globe, inspiring business leaders to act with confidence since 1946. EIU products include its flagship Country Reports service, providing political and economic analysis for 195 countries, and a portfolio of subscription-based data and forecasting services. The company also undertakes bespoke research and analysis projects on individual markets and business sectors. More information is available at or follow us on

The EIU is headquartered in London, UK, with offices in more than 40 cities and a network of some 650 country experts and analysts worldwide. It operates independently as the business-to-business arm of The Economist Group, the leading source of analysis on international business and world affairs.

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