I-bankers & God’s work

A little commentary tucked into today’s Wall Street Journal (p.C4) riffs on Lloyd Blankfein’s statement last fall about investment bankers “doing God’s work” – and may hold a lesson, too, for investor relations professionals and our companies.

John Terrill, who heads the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University, shares his thoughts on i-bankers doing good through their work:

Investment banking, if it meets its objective of capital matchmaking, can move, ought to move, capital around in ways that allow communities to flourish.

Terrill says benefiting society in business is about aligning what you do with broader purposes, realizing, “Hey, my work has a purpose beyond the paycheck.”

Asked how to measure whether investment bankers are contributing to the common good, Terrill focuses on integrity – a oneness between purpose and action. This test also applies to corporations and their messaging for investors.

Terrill says integrity consists of three layers:

The first two layers are associated with damage control – compliance with the law and acting appropriately when there is no law. But, as others have pointed out … there is a third layer that is focused on mission control. Mission control is pursuing the good, aligning the mission of the organization and the good of society.

Disclosure focusing on corporate social responsibility is a growing concern for investor relations staffs – amid regulatory pressures (such as the recent SEC guidance on  climate change disclosure) and interest from institutional investors.

Terrill’s three “layers” suggest a useful framework for reporting on corporate interactions with society:

  1. Compliance with the law,
  2. Standards of conduct that go beyond the law, and
  3. The company’s broad mission in serving customers and providing products or services to society.

Disclosure to investors would tie any specific issues in with business performance – near and longer term – which would include regulatory threats, costs of compliance and effects on customer relationships.

The Terrill essay referenced by the WSJ article, “The Moral Imperative of Investment Banking,” offers additional comments.

© 2010 Johnson Strategic Communications Inc.

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