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1 November 2013 CFA Institute Journal Review

Bankers and Functional Psychopathy: The Risk of Losing Everything (Digest Summary)

  1. Sandra Krueger, CFA

Financial predators are experts at developing an image of self-control, confidence, and authority to gain the trust of their clients. The Mesly model of financial predation relates to the functioning of the hypothalamus when perceived predation occurs. Limiting predatory behavior through market or regulatory forces can protect vulnerable clients and banking institutions.

What’s Inside?

Financial predators excel at getting others to trust them. They pretend to be exemplary citizens, act obediently, and appear to be knowledgeable and highly competent. The authors describe the Mesly model of financial predation and the link between perceived predation and trust. From a neurobiological point of view, the model is convincing. Trust, a form of attachment, is increased by the release of oxytocin. Financial predators seem to have a neurobiological ability to elicit unconditional trust from victims. Cooperation is hindered by stress; thus, financial predators do everything they can to put clients at ease. Efficient cooperation brings about a stronger relationship between the two parties, which increases the victim’s trust in the predator over time.

How Is This Research Useful to Practitioners?

The capitalist system tends to foster financial predators. Character traits that are valued by businesses—such as the capacity to think quickly, make nonemotional difficult decisions, and remain focused—can also allow financial predators to thrive at the expense of others. These financial predators can be categorized as functional psychopaths in many respects, and they have the ability to generate high levels of unconditional trust. They deal with conflict in a structured way and are careful not to exceed a certain level of conflict that could serve as a warning signal. They hide their true feelings and prefer to catch their victims by surprise.

What allows a potential financial predator to become an active one is lax regulation or monitoring. Avoiding detection is a key strategy of financial predators, and once a predator has been detected, it is usually too late to escape sizable damage.

By being aware of the traits of financial predators, practitioners can establish relevant risk management policies and possibly prevent large losses in their own organizations.

How Did the Authors Conduct This Research?

The authors conduct a study to determine if a certain percentage of the population has the ability to become predators. They define a predatory profile as a person who is cold, calculative, sneaky, and selfish.

Working counterintuitively, the authors use a group of musicians whose work conditions are very different from those of typical financial advisers. Five groups of amateur chorus singers are chosen and presented with a questionnaire to self-report on their natures. Values from a previous study are added as a control group, cluster analysis is performed on personality type, and the model is tested for fit. The authors find that 8 out of the 191 people in their sample fit the predatory profile, and they make 13 observations. Although the model fit is poor, the value of estimators supports past research.

The authors note the limitations in their study. Their sample is not from the banking industry, and it may not be representative of larger populations. Additionally, self-reporting may include biases; participants might have known that the authors were testing for predation.

To further review their model’s accuracy, the authors investigate a real case involving a financial adviser.

Abstractor’s Viewpoint

Tightening regulation can help protect vulnerable clients and banking institutions, but in numerous cases, charming financial predators are tolerated within an organization as long as they bring in revenue. Although identification could prevent predation, in practice, these manipulative predators tend to be well-respected and can alter their behavior when they need to. They have a certain charisma that makes institutions want to bend the rules just for them.

Raising awareness of functional psychopathy may help limit the devastating impact of predators. In fact, it may be a good idea to encourage industry associations to make this subject required reading for continuing education requirements.

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