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The Bible says bankers’ bonuses are OK …

I was listening to a sermon yesterday.

The sermon quoted a lengthy section of the Gospel according to Matthew, where three servants are given their master’s wealth to look after whilst he is on travels.

Two of the servants increase their master’s wealth, whilst one digs a hole and buries it.  The latter doesn’t like his master very much, y’see.

When the master returns, he rewards the slaves who increased his wealth and punishes the one who buried it.

Supposedly, it was a story about those who work hard to make wealth for their employer get rewarded, whilst those who don’t get thrown out.

Honest work and faithful service is rewarded, whilst the lazy and surly get punished.

I heard it a different way.

I heard it as those who make money through investing wisely get rewarded more than those who don’t.

And isn’t that what banking is all about?

Banks and bankers are here to invest our resources wisely.

The ones who make the most out of those investments get rewarded the most, whilst the ones who mess up get thrown out.

So why is it we have a problem with bankers bonuses?

After all, if the Bible says it’s ok, then it’s ok isn’t it?

If you want to make your own mind up, here's the passage used for the sermon:

For it is like a man going on a journey, who summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them.

To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.

The one who had received five talents went off right away and put his money to work and gained five more.

In the same way, the one who had two gained two more.

But the one who had received one talent went out and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money in it. 

After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled his accounts with them.

The one who had received the five talents came and brought five more, saying, ‘Sir, you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’

His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’

The one with the two talents also came and said, ‘Sir, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more.’

His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’

Then the one who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’

But his master answered, ‘Evil and lazy slave! So you knew that I harvest where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter? Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest!

‘Therefore take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten.  For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ 

(Matthew 25:14-30)

 

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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  • Chunk

    I guess the danger of banks collapsing was different back then.

  • John Boyes

    Here are the objections:
    The bonuses are excessive. There are plenty of people of people in this country and beyond working as hard as you do and doing good work too. (ie: they are not like the lazy slave in the parable.) They don’t get bonuses like you do though. No, that does not make you that much cleverer. I mean really, it doesn’t does it? Think about it. Properly. Somebody’s got to make the BMW you’re buzzing around in. If we were all financial traders we’d still be living in caves.
    The media publishes stories of bankers who have failed, yet still get multi-million pound bonuses.
    Many of the bonuses received have been for so-called successes which actually blew up a bubble and caused the credit crunch. (eg: Bonuses for mis-selling sub-prime mortgages.) How long would the first two slaves have lasted if their investments later dissolved? They’d be thrown out with the third. How about you?
    Finally, I have heard that the bonus system is necessary for a financial company to get the best people. If that’s really the case, the credit crunch wouldn’t have happened. The bonus system is warped. It caused traders and bankers to earn bonuses just by taking bigger risks. The reason for this is easy to explain: The non-exec board decides the bonus system for the execs, then the execs approve the bonuses for the non-execs. It’s just corrupt, pure and simple.
    You know all this. Your logic is twisted and you know that too. You don’t fool me though.

  • John Boyes

    Here are the objections:
    The bonuses are excessive. There are plenty of people of people in this country and beyond working as hard as you do and doing good work too. (ie: they are not like the lazy slave in the parable.) They don’t get bonuses like you do though. No, that does not make you that much cleverer. I mean really, it doesn’t does it? Think about it. Properly. Somebody’s got to make the BMW you’re buzzing around in. If we were all financial traders we’d still be living in caves.
    The media publishes stories of bankers who have failed, yet still get multi-million pound bonuses.
    Many of the bonuses received have been for so-called successes which actually blew up a bubble and caused the credit crunch. (eg: Bonuses for mis-selling sub-prime mortgages.) How long would the first two slaves have lasted if their investments later dissolved? They’d be thrown out with the third. How about you?
    Finally, I have heard that the bonus system is necessary for a financial company to get the best people. If that’s really the case, the credit crunch wouldn’t have happened. The bonus system is warped. It caused traders and bankers to earn bonuses just by taking bigger risks. The reason for this is easy to explain: The non-exec board decides the bonus system for the execs, then the execs approve the bonuses for the non-execs. It’s just corrupt, pure and simple.
    You know all this. Your logic is twisted and you know that too. You don’t fool me though.

  • John Boyes

    The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, yesterday joined the attack on bankers’ pay, claiming excesses in the financial sector had helped to create huge inequalities in wealth, “demonstrating how scandalously unfair our society is”.
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/we-are-paid-too-much-bankers-confess-in-st-pauls-survey-6258032.html

  • There is nothing in St Mathew’s Gospel about the master rewarding his slaves financially. There have been many translations of this Gospel, however, they all basically give the same message: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (25:45)
    The message here is that if you are a good banker you should be given more assets to manage and this will make you as happy as your boss. If you are a bad banker you should be sacked. Banks seem to get it wrong on both counts.

  • BigCaper

    I have absolutely no problem with big fat bonuses. Unfortunately, the bankers we refer to dug a huge hole and buried us all in it. But still have their hand out for a bonus.
    The vast majority of hard working people in banking get quite modest bonuses; it’s the few rotten apples….

  • BigCaper

    I have absolutely no problem with big fat bonuses. Unfortunately, the bankers we refer to dug a huge hole and buried us all in it. But still have their hand out for a bonus.
    The vast majority of hard working people in banking get quite modest bonuses; it’s the few rotten apples….

  • Tom Mcminn

    Erm i think the issue here is the word SLAVE.
    These poor soles were forced to do the bidding of their master in order to create for HIM more profit.
    This is not about good honest workers, bankers bounuses or any other ethical business, it is about SLAVES and slavery.

  • Tom Mcminn

    Erm i think the issue here is the word SLAVE.
    These poor soles were forced to do the bidding of their master in order to create for HIM more profit.
    This is not about good honest workers, bankers bounuses or any other ethical business, it is about SLAVES and slavery.

  • bob,mcdowall

    Hopefully, the dim-witted, overpaid footballing professionals will come in for similar criticism as well. They make bankers look like modest earners.

  • bob,mcdowall

    Hopefully, the dim-witted, overpaid footballing professionals will come in for similar criticism as well. They make bankers look like modest earners.

  • Kevin Pattison

    I had three tangential thoughts:
    1. It’s the responsibility of us all to put our resources to good use, which benefits other people, rather than to selfishly hide them away in the safety of a non-interest bearing account. We should all take risks for the benefit of everyone and make best use of the talents we have.
    2. The real problems in the meltdown came about when InterBank lending dried up (it’s happening again now!)i.e. when Banks buried their talents.
    3. Bosses who instil fear in their employees will probably encourage negative behaviour in those in the most vulnerable positions – if he wanted to see a return on the 8th talent the boss should have cultured a relationship of mutual respect with the lesser-talented employee – the difference between a good and a bad Bank would usually be determined by whether it makes 8 talents return on capital rather than 7!

  • Kevin Pattison

    I had three tangential thoughts:
    1. It’s the responsibility of us all to put our resources to good use, which benefits other people, rather than to selfishly hide them away in the safety of a non-interest bearing account. We should all take risks for the benefit of everyone and make best use of the talents we have.
    2. The real problems in the meltdown came about when InterBank lending dried up (it’s happening again now!)i.e. when Banks buried their talents.
    3. Bosses who instil fear in their employees will probably encourage negative behaviour in those in the most vulnerable positions – if he wanted to see a return on the 8th talent the boss should have cultured a relationship of mutual respect with the lesser-talented employee – the difference between a good and a bad Bank would usually be determined by whether it makes 8 talents return on capital rather than 7!

  • Jimnup

    Actually, being a fallen member of the faith and at one time an aspiring divinity student, the passage is generally interpreted as the third slave that buried the talent was doing a virtuous act by not rewarding and amplifying the master’s ill gotten gains. The story goes on to point out that one should not expect to be rewarded for taking such an idealistic stand.
    The analogy in this case is comparing the so called “master’s of the universe” bankers with slaves doesn’t quite seem to work. Missing the applicability in the Bible passage unless you are discussing private banking.

  • Jimnup

    Actually, being a fallen member of the faith and at one time an aspiring divinity student, the passage is generally interpreted as the third slave that buried the talent was doing a virtuous act by not rewarding and amplifying the master’s ill gotten gains. The story goes on to point out that one should not expect to be rewarded for taking such an idealistic stand.
    The analogy in this case is comparing the so called “master’s of the universe” bankers with slaves doesn’t quite seem to work. Missing the applicability in the Bible passage unless you are discussing private banking.

  • Gabriel

    I’m sitting here trying to think … and no …
    no … I’ve never seen such a fallacious comparison

  • Gabriel

    I’m sitting here trying to think … and no …
    no … I’ve never seen such a fallacious comparison

  • the level of these bonuses are disgraceful consider the dire state of the economy. this individuals making huge sums of money at the expense of the public should be stopped

  • the level of these bonuses are disgraceful consider the dire state of the economy. this individuals making huge sums of money at the expense of the public should be stopped

  • Chris Skinner

    I thought I’d wait until most folks had vented their spleen before saying that I totally agree with Gabriel’s comment above – this is a purely ‘fallacious comparison’ and I don’t believe a word of it.
    Good to see the commentary though and if anyone can recommend where I can find some good slaves would be appreciated 😉
    Chris

  • Chris Skinner

    I thought I’d wait until most folks had vented their spleen before saying that I totally agree with Gabriel’s comment above – this is a purely ‘fallacious comparison’ and I don’t believe a word of it.
    Good to see the commentary though and if anyone can recommend where I can find some good slaves would be appreciated 😉
    Chris

  • Gloria Mahinya

    I agree with John Magill on his coments above specifically that there is no such a quote in the Bible which states “bankers’ bonuses are OK..” However, the Bible warns in Revelation 22:18-19 that “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away his part out of this book of this prophesy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” So I urge you to be careful when using the Holy Books as you are creating problems for your ownself.

  • Gloria Mahinya

    I agree with John Magill on his coments above specifically that there is no such a quote in the Bible which states “bankers’ bonuses are OK..” However, the Bible warns in Revelation 22:18-19 that “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away his part out of this book of this prophesy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” So I urge you to be careful when using the Holy Books as you are creating problems for your ownself.