Learning Lessons from our Past

  • Simon Thompson
  • 30 March 2020
  • Professionalism and Ethics | Blog | Coronavirus Resource

With nearly 150 years of experience in educating bankers and with a network in excess of 30,000 professional bankers around the globe, our Institute is proud to be regarded as the voice of responsible and sustainable professionalism in banking.

The global impact of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak has prompted me to look back over some of the Institute’s historical archives to see how we, and our members and students coped during previous momentous and challenging times. As a keen student of history, I believe strongly in learning from the lessons of the past, and trying to apply them to shape our future.

From our archives, our predecessors faced wars, rationing, epidemics and more than a few financial shocks along the way.  A century ago, the Institute’s Council were meeting in the shadow of the Spanish flu pandemic.  Surprisingly, there are few direct references in reports from Council and other meetings.  Perhaps the memory of the Great War put the flu into perspective.  The main concern of our Council members at the time – perhaps related to the pandemic, and falls in production, was the shortage of and high cost of paper which was impacting on the production of our learning materials and Institute magazine.  Whether there was also a shortage of toilet roll at the time is, sadly, not recorded …

There are also references in our records from 1920 to the very depressed state of the stock market, and to a dismal trade outlook. In December that year, we reported that: 

It is a long time since shares have been so depressed as they are at present. Only a year ago, people bought everything regardless of merit; now the best shares are being thrown away with equal abandon

The Great War itself placed pressures on the banks, and on our Institute, much greater than those we face today.  For students whose studies were interrupted by military service, we made arrangements for study via correspondence – the forerunner of today’s online learning.  As male bank staff joined up, women joined the ranks as bank clerks and, for the first time, they were allowed to sit examinations and become members of the Institute – which raises eyebows when looking at this through a contemporary lens ...

During the Second World War, study via correspondence continued, and we even made arrangements via the Red Cross for our members in prisoner of war camps to take their examinations.  No record remains as to whether camp guards were co-opted as invigilators!  Today, of course, we can deliver examinations to those self-isolating at home via remote invigilation, somewhat more comfortably.

We have, therefore, faced challenging times before and no doubt will do again.  Despite the very real threats and impacts of Covid-19, I take comfort in looking back at our records to see how we successfully supported our past members and students through two World Wars.  These are not, therefore, the unprecedented times that some claim; we have been here before.  And we will help our current members and students enhance their knowledge and skills to help rebuild lives, businesses and communities damaged by coronavirus - just as our predecessors rebuilt their worlds, in the shade of the previous flu pandemic, and two World Wars.