Coverage of Deutsche’s woes exposes the “purpose” movement’s dilemma.

“What is sad for 20,000 bankers and traders, compliance and support staff is good news for investors who have seen their shares fall 80 per cent in 10 years. It should be a relief, too, for the German taxpayer, who has remained the ultimate backstop for this hulking “too big to fail” institution” wrote Tom Braithwaite in the Financial Times last week.

“Sad”, Tom? Are you serious?

I felt sad when my daughter’s goldfish died. The word “sad” in this context doesn’t quite cut it for me, let alone I suspect for any one of the 20,000 – since recalculated at 18,000 but, hey, what’s 2000 jobs, give or take? – who will lose their jobs.

“Relief”, really? Will the German taxpayer be “relieved” that they may be better off because 18,000 people are losing their jobs?

I suspect a German taxpayer who happens to work for Deutsche Bank and is about to be “made redundant” may indeed have mixed feelings about these words, to put it mildly.

But journalists are not to be blamed. They reflect only the norms that society share. These norms are highlighted again today in the FT as it ran the story on its front page, this time with the emphasis on the “bad bank” angle. The human toll, although still noted, slipping in importance.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find any reflective opinion piece on the job losses on the inside pages.

I suppose that’s to be expected, given the implicit assumption that the “radical overhaul” has market approval, albeit “scant comfort to investors who have sunk €30bn into the bank…only to see its share price plunge – and confirmed that it would not pay a dividend for the next two years”.

The CEO, Christian Sewing, said the “sizeable workforce reductions” will require uncomfortable decisions…Today we have announced the most fundamental transformation…[to] restore the reputation of Deutsche Bank”.

“Uncomfortable decisions” for whom? I hope he means the 18000.

“Fundamental transformation”? Does he mean that the bank which will soon have 74,000 employees instead of 91,500 will be “fundamentally” different in behaviour terms from the bank that exists today and had, for example, “643 employees earning more than €1m last year”?

It looks like the market and the FT views letting go of 18,000 people, setting up a €74 bn ‘bad bank’, and a target of €6bn in “cost cuts” as a recipe for “transformation”. No need for editorial comment. Job done.

That would be understandable if at the same time many well-known gladiators of capitalism are not currently focused on the importance of “doing business with a social purpose”.

“Ethical investments” are all the rage. Soon we will be in the embarrassing position whereby ethical investment funds will be bigger than, er, the others.

If you sit on a board, no matter how small or large, how should you read Deutche’s news and its coverage in terms of its value for you?

I suggest that you start by being honest with yourself first, if not with your colleagues, that nothing fundamental will change in your business unless and until your “license to trade” includes a requirement to satisy environment, society and governance factors before profit considerations.

ESG costs money. If it didn’t, we’d all be at it, ages ago.

Unless and until this approach becomes the norm, all the talk about business with a social purpose is just that. Talk.

In Deutsche Bank’s case, an ESG approach to decision-making might have confronted what Tom Braithwaite referred to in his piece as “an enduring Deutsche problem: ‘If you don’t have $100m by the time you’re 40, you’re a failure”.

This is a board decision-making behaviour issue. Nothing else.

Had Christian Sewing announced that “we will transform the bank by addressing the behaviour that led us here” then I suspect the FT might have been shocked into writing an opinion piece. The market might have been stunned.

But, to be fair, he is doing only what is expected of him.

He didn’t do otherwise. And until CEOs and boards like him and his, and you and yours do, then – sadly – the purpose movement is destined to spin its wheels.

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