The Ambiguity of Trust in a Corporate Governance: A Philosophical Inquiry of Danske Banks Corporate Governance Initiatives to Regain Trust

Alexander Michael Petersen & Kasper Højvang Christensen

Student thesis: Master thesis

Abstract

This thesis undertakes a philosophical inquiry of Danske Bank’s endeavour to regain trust through its corporate governance initiatives. Due to a sequence of events in the past 10 years, culminating in the Estonian Money Laundering Case, Danske Bank is experiencing the lowest trust ratings since the financial crisis of 2007-2008. The bank has therefore committed itself to three distinct initiatives: compliance, leadership values and stakeholder collaboration. The initiatives, while being practical in nature, have deep historical roots in three major theoretical corporate governance positions: agency theory, stewardship theory and stakeholder theory. Inspired by the French Philosopher, Michel Foucault, this thesis conducts a genealogical analysis of the three theories in order to excavate their historical becoming. On the basis of the genealogical analysis, we established that though each theory presented different propositions on how to govern the corporation in the best way, the theories encompassed the same principles of relation, human nature, and moral. Inspired by French Philosopher Gilles Deleuze, our thesis investigated the commonalities of the principles in relation to the concept of the image of thought. In the image, the three principles were limited and constrained inside understandings of relations as consensual contracts; the model of man as homo economicus; and a morality of utility – an image which the thesis term the economic-governance image of thought. Positioning Danske Bank’s corporate governance initiatives in relation to this image, the thesis concluded that the three commitments had the common denominator of trust based on in the leader’s ability to adequately live up to the moral values of the bank – a task that seems unrealisable. In order to overturn this image, to once again allow the possibility of novelty, we staged three encounters with different notions of trust from Løgstrup, Svendsen & Svendsen, and Aristotle in order to show the limitations of the common corporate governance principles and the economic-governance image of thought. By staging the three encounters and challenging the economic-governance’s frame, three concepts have emerged in which the principles’ core can be perceived anew: from contracts of associations to trusting relations; from a human-being of accumulation to a human-becoming of redistribution; and from a utilitarian transcendent moral to a practical exercise of virtue ethics. In extent the concepts’ plane has been broadened, making it possible to approach the question of how the corporation ought to be governed. The thesis thereby provides a specific way to philosophically deal with the problem of corporate governance, while also providing Danske Bank with a methodological toolset for assessing the underlying assumptions and values of its corporate governance initiatives.

EducationsMSc in Philosophy, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
LanguageEnglish
Publication date2020
Number of pages116
SupervisorsMorten Sørensen Thaning