Responsible Banking - an Oxymoron?

  • Lydia Westrup

Student thesis: Phd


Over the past decade banks repeatedly made headlines with severe cases of business misconduct. Several high profile political inquiries sought to ascertain responsibility for the malfeasance but concluded that responsibility could not unequivocally be attributed. Considering that the responsibility principle constitutes a normative element which should guide social interaction, its evasion can lead to social distortions. The purpose of the thesis is threefold. First, it seeks to explore the responsibility practices in banking; second, it considers the mechanisms of responsibility evasion; and third, it discusses the power relations guiding responsible business conduct. Academic research typically considers corporate responsibility from two perspectives. At the meso level responsibility is framed in terms of corporate governance; at the micro level individual and team responsibilities are studied. This thesis offers a different perspective and discusses responsibility in terms of practice, which comprises responsibility constitution and responsibility attribution. In an organisational context responsibility is arranged in terms of role and task responsibilities and corporate culture, while responsibility attributions refer to the interpretations and judgements of social conduct. The analysis draws on the concept of ‘agencement’ which describes a heterogeneous compendium of different devices that act on and modify each other (Pollock and Williams, 2009). Ontologically, ANT views realities as multiple and fluid and the question of which reality takes precedence is a matter of power relations. For the analysis a methodological tool, the responsibility map, has been developed and applied to three case studies, namely the mis-selling of PPI, trader manipulation of LIBOR and low-balling of LIBOR. Operating under the principles of financialisation, banks have internalised financial benefits while negative outcomes were externalised. Responsibility attribution for the misconduct was systematically evaded. The mechanisms of responsibility diffusion are closely tied to the business strategies: retail banks proceduralised responsibility; it became invested in meeting sales targets. Investment banks operated at the forefront of LIBOR manipulations. Handling the LIBOR rate setting process in an informal manner created responsibility gaps. In both environments the regulatory regimes in place proved ineffective. It is argued that corporate irresponsibility must be considered as a recurrent theme if banking remains organised in terms of financialised business models. The thesis presents a novel approach to the study of organisational responsibility. The methodological tool developed for this research can be adapted to study responsibility in other corporate contexts. Given that the current business models are flawed as they create an environment that condones irresponsible conduct the thesis concludes with suggestions for policy making.
Date of Award31 Dec 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJulie Froud (Supervisor) & Karel Williams (Supervisor)


  • Corporate Responsibility
  • Financialisation
  • Banking Industry
  • Actor-Network-Theory

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