Bankers asked to swap profit for prayer

Church Window

Bright young professionals from the banking industry have been asked to attend a year-long course run by the Anglican Church, which aims to "reboot" the values of financial services following the global financial crisis.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington DC on Sunday, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Church said he would be recruiting young bankers on a program of ethics, philosophy and encounters with the poor. 

"It will be uncomfortable, demanding, rigorous (and) tiring," he said at a seminar on banking ethics alongside notable faces such as Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the IMF and the Bank of England's Mark Carney.

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The year-long course will take place at his home of Lambeth Palace, which is located on the south bank of the River Thames opposite the U.K.'s Houses of Parliament. It will be open to young people between 20 and 35 years of age who will work with churches in London and around the United Kingdom as well as northwest Europe. Welby added that senior business leaders will also be invited on shorter, more intensive courses.

With the event focusing on banking ethics, Welby suggested that the program could be used for financial hopefuls before they enter the City of London or Wall Street. However, he did add that it would also be available for those interested in government roles, the armed forces and the Church itself. There was little information on who would be signing up to this scheme and whether any person or company had already shown an interest. A video on the Church's website said that the group would be available to people from the 44 countries and 38 provinces that make up the Anglican Communion, but also would extend to form an "ecumenical" group from all cultures.

The reputation of financial services and banking has been through the wars in recent years following the crash of 2008. Risk-taking has been frowned upon as regulators have been busy stepping up their efforts to ensure a repeat episode doesn't play out. In the U.K., high profile banks have been on the receiving end of heavy fines for the miss-selling of financial products to customers.

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In January, a yearly survey of 27,000 people from 27 countries by the public relations firm Edelman found that banks and financial services were the least trusted sectors.

Welby worked in the oil industry in the 1980s and became a group treasurer of a large British exploration and production company. On Sunday, he recalled his life of derivatives trading and futures contracts but said that it was at odds with the definition of what ethics should be about. Rather than results and rewards, he said that ethics should be about what you do as a "virtuous person", and predicted a future of overregulation if the industry didn't change itself.

His comments match those of other global faith leaders who have spoken directly to the industry. In January ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Pope Francis asked business leaders to put their wealth at the service of humanity and aids they had a responsibility towards others, particularly the most frail, weak and vulnerable.

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