A Contract with Society: The Identity and Responsibilities of Banks

Peter Ottendahl Jakobsen & Asser Tønnesen

Student thesis: Master thesis


In 2018 it became publicly known that Denmark’s largest bank, Danske Bank, had been implicated in one ofhistory’s largest financial money laundering schemes. This means that another event had been added to a listof scandals related to the banking sector which also consists of accusations of tax havens, tax refusion scams,responsibility for the financial crisis as well as a general discussion about the actions of banks.Following this revelation, Danish media was filled with accusations that banks in Denmark had relinquishedtheir social responsibility and broken what was termed a “contract with society.” This contract with societyimplied that banks have responsibilities above and beyond following the law.The catch is that such a contract never existed, as was admitted by both banks and society, yet it was thecentral signifier in what would evolve to be a large storm in the media culminating in the Chairman of theBoard of the financial sector’s interest organization, Finance Denmark, apologizing for the actions of banks.This thesis tries to examine the social responsibilities of banks, their role in society and what this contract withsociety means for the identity of banks. The empirical foundation is articles in the daily newspapers andspeeches held at Finance Denmark’s annual meetings back to 2007.The theoretical angle is Laclau & Mouffe’s discourse analysis, through which we analyse the hegemonicstruggles of different actors in trying to articulate what banks should be in society and how.We find that the social responsibilities of banks is a highly contested area in both the discourses of society andthe banking sector. Furthermore, we find that the contract with society serves a discursively mediated attemptat regulating the sector. The banks themselves have had a chaotic time trying to organize a stable identity andhave been unsuccessful in vanquishing the spectre of the financial crisis that haunts its reputation. Two idealroles for banks have been identified: as a private market actor whose only concern is profits, and as a broadersocietal actor whose concern is its responsibilities to society at large and not just markets.

EducationsMSocSc in Political Communication and Managment, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2019
Number of pages97
SupervisorsDorthe Pedersen