Green's advice for happy banks
On a clear day, you can see it for miles - the HSBC tower at Canary Wharf. I had never realised that HSBC occupied all of it, and had rather assumed they let much of it out. But no, it's all theirs and it is reportedly the biggest single workplace in Europe.
I was there to meet the chairman, Stephen Green. and was whisked to the 40th floor, which turned out to be surprisingly funky. A bustling coffee bar, a lounge area, thinking pods and meeting rooms, and shared book cases with volumes on everything from golf to the Aids pandemic.
The one book I couldn't see was the latest work of Mr Green himself, Good Value: reflections on money, morality and an uncertain world.
I'm not surprised it wasn't there. I don't get the impression that Mr Green is the kind of chairman to thrust his book down the throats of his staff. In fact, he comes across as surprisingly gentle and unassuming.
His book reads as a fairly earnest manifesto for the capitalist globalisation that has been an unstoppable force in the world, to be tempered by a certain degree of self-restraint and driven by moral as well as purely financial values.
He makes a useful point in the week our government publishes its banking regulation white paper. Mr Green thinks regulation is necessary, but not sufficient to ensuring banks work in the public interest.
I met Mr Green and chatted to him, and you can hear my interview with him below.
The conversation we had inevitably strayed into the practicalities of regulation and it is perhaps therefore my failure that what is probably Mr Green's greatest insight rather got lost in it.
This is important, so let me spell it out here.
His point - as I understand it - is not so much that we should exhort bankers and others to somehow be moral against their own self interest when they are making money for themselves. No. His point is that bankers and others should be moral in their own self interest; that they will actually find life more satisfying if they are not narrowly selfish in their behaviour.
In other words, to be happy, you need to be able to look yourself in the mirror and think - I have done something worthwhile for others as well as myself.
It turns out that there is a substantial amount of empirical economic evidence for this view. And it is perhaps a finding that should generate headlines more often than other economic news which fills the airwaves: the truly interesting economic revelation is that giving is more pleasurable than taking.
A study by Elizabeth Dunn literally handed money to people either to spend on themselves or on others, and it showed that the givers were happier afterwards than the ones who spent on themselves.
There is also evidence that volunteering is a route to happiness as well. Mr Green is surely right to remind them that there is more to life than making money.
Perhaps they should teach this in school. People do not always seem very able to judge these things for themselves.
But of course, what do you do in a world where many people act according to a different set of principles? Maybe they are not programmed like the rest of us. Maybe they get their satisfaction from being selfish!
I asked Mr Green how many people in banking might fit that bill, but he couldn't give me a clear answer.
Which I guess is why we need to regulate banks.
With people like Stephen Green in charge, one wonders how banks could have allowed themselves to become to so voracious and reckless. The answer is probably that people like him were not always in charge. HSBC, of course, has not gone bust and has not received state aid.