A deeper look at ethics within banking corporations: the approach of one of the biggest bank in the world

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Alves, Mário Aquino
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There is a noticeable growing society’s preoccupation with ethics, coming partly from the numerous scandals that came to light in the corporate world lately, especially in the financial sector in which the repercussions of embezzlements usually have a broader impact for the society than they may have when happening in other sector of activities. As another consequence, we can observe a raising interest of the academics in studying business ethics. Nevertheless, despite the very frequent use of the term and concepts related to this subject, there is still no consensus on a common definition of business ethics. It belongs to each corporation to define what it considers as corporate ethics. Therefore, in order to understand better what is behind ethics, it is necessary to go back to its definition, explain its evolution, put it in our contemporary context, and then apply it to the field of interest. Within the banking sector, ethics refers mainly to a legal aspect, but also took the path of corporate social responsibility development within the corporations, through various practices. The literature on this matter underlines that the traditional banking corporations’ approach of ethics disconnects it from their core business, considering that it does not belong to the heart of their activity. Actually, corporations respond to the same institutional isomorphism mechanisms that lead them to adopt some practices with the objective of achieving legitimacy within the society. Contrary to these traditional banking corporations, the banks qualified as ethical within the literature have in common to structure their activities on or around ethics, distinguishing themselves from other banks by having as main goal to be ethical. The Brazilian bank, Itaú Unibanco, one of the biggest traditional bank in the world in terms of market value, was progressively perceived as highly preoccupied with ethics and was recently designated as the most sustainable bank in the world by the Financial Times Magazine. Itaú Unibanco designed and implemented a program of ethics, which combines a theoretical component 8 (with guidelines, rules, principles and code of ethics), used as a framework for a practical component (with particular organizational structure and practices). Thanks to this characteristic, o Itaú Unibanco placed itself as a pro active actor that can be qualified of champion of innovation in the banking sector concerning ethics’ institutionalization.

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