Patience as a corporate virtue

Originally published in The Christian Science Monitor, June 24, 2015.

Financial regulators in Britain have imposed a rather unusual rule on the bosses of big banks. Starting next year, any guaranteed bonus of top executives could be delayed 10 years if their banks are under investigation for wrongdoing. The main purpose of this “clawback” rule is to hold bankers accountable for harmful risk-taking and to restore public trust in financial institutions. Yet officials also hope for a much larger benefit: more long-term decision-making, not only by banks but by all corporations, to build a stronger economy for future generations.

“Short-termism,” or the desire for quick profits, has worsened in publicly traded companies, says the Bank of England’s top economist, Andrew Haldane. He quotes a giant of classical economics, Alfred Marshall, in describing this financial impatience as acting like “children who pick the plums out of their pudding to eat them at once” rather than putting them aside to be eaten last.

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