He is not, of course, alone in that. Indeed, it might be said to be an universal belief. However, his attitude has, perhaps, a more positive spin on it.
Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng takes the firm position that he has a mandate to enable Shanghai, as China’s financial capital, to overtake Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo as preeminent in Asia. That is as long as bankers don’t get in the way.
Han Zheng said, :Financiers have the least conscience in the world when it comes to making money. By saying that, I would have offended many bankers and financiers, but this is my personal experience." Seems unlikely. Rare to find a banker with a thin skin and a tender heart.
Han said that Shanghai needs to contain the "animal spirits" that led Western banks to take on too much credit risk, triggering $1.6 trillion in losses. Animal spirits is not, perhaps the phrase most would have used but it has a gentle charm and is undebiably accurate.
China’s government in April gave Shanghai until 2020 to become a global finance hub, a role played by Hong Kong since Britain handed back the former colony 12 years ago. According to Han, to get there, China needs to make the currency convertible, bring the legal system in line with international norms and cut taxes that are double those in Hong Kong.
He said, "This is certainly a very challenging strategic mission. What we have to focus on in Shanghai at the moment are the fundamental things, including the legal framework, credit systems and a set of open rules for competition."
Paul Calello, chief executive officer of Credit Suisse AG’s investment bank, said he didn’t think the Shanghai mayor’s comments about bankers represented a particularly Chinese attitude. He said, "That mindset toward financial people is a global one."
There is much truth in that.
Blooomberg reports that Alan Greenberg, the former chairman of now-defunct Bear Stearns, laughed in response to Han’s comments about financiers’ "conscience".