Morally-Bankrupt Banker

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Elmer Boggs: More money? Haw haw haw... You already have a loan you can't pay back! Is it my fault the hail ruined your crop? The bank will own your farm in just a few days! You're out of luck, John Freeman! Next week, I want you and that crippled boy off our property! Understand!
John Freeman: If I ever get the chance, I'll fix you for this! I hate the ground you walk on... Elmer Boggs!

Elmer Boggs: So what? Most people do! But I don't get paid for being loved!

A subtrope of Acceptable Targets. The Morally-Bankrupt Banker is unsympathetic, both as a character and to other characters. To be fair, on the one hand he (and it's almost always a he) has a tough job, when someone needs that third loan extension and he says no, it's not out of malice but to protect the savings of other bank patrons. When deciding to issue a loan, he has to carefully consider whether the debtor has a decent chance of paying it back, because a bad loan hurts the debtor, the bank and its customers. On the other hand, it's more likely he has a small shrine to Ebenezer Scrooge and says "no" to protect the bank's wealth and because the debtor is at fault for being poor in the first place. When it comes time to make loans, he'll give them out gleefully with Read the Fine Print details to turn up the interest rates like a thermostat until it's time for the Repo Man to impound some unfortunate ambitious dreamer's property.

And this is just a branch manager—the bank's CEO is probably a Corrupt Corporate Executive who would rather gamble with the customers' money than make prudent investments. More generally, the Morally-Bankrupt Banker is likely an Obstructive Bureaucrat, Lawful Neutral or Lawful Evil, and a Rules Lawyer.

A quick way to tell whether a banker is meant to be sympathetic is which of the following is his attitude toward money: "That's the bank's money" (unsympathetic), "That's my money" (really unsympathetic) or "That's our customers' money" (sympathetic). Another is his reaction when he hears a plea for help. A snide remark about "all the sob stories" he hears is pretty much this trope's Kick the Dog. On the other hand, if he goes out of his way to offer the customer an extension, move around deadlines, extend refinancing offers, or otherwise give the customer at least a chance at paying back a debt or getting a much-needed loan, then he's likely averting this trope and being sympathetic.

This may possibly be a Cyclic Trope; examples became popular during and after The Great Depression in the 1930s, and more recently in the global recession of 2008.

See also the Loan Shark.

Examples of Morally-Bankrupt Banker include:


Comics[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In the Jack Chick tract "The Contract", Elmer Boggs is one, coldly telling John Freeman (no, not that one) that the bank will repossess his farm. He orders Freeman to get out of the bank and never show his face there again, but after Freeman makes a Deal with the Devil and tells Boggs' boss that he can't deposit his money so that he can get revenge, Boggs gets fired.

Film[edit | hide]

  • In American Psycho, pretty much all of the main characters working as investment bankers fit the trope, although the banal greed and callousness of the secondary characters pales in comparison to the violent crimes of the protagonist, Patrick Bateman.
  • The Dark Knight: The Mob Bank at the beginning.
  • Mr. Perkins in Despicable Me. Of course, the fact that he turns out to be the father of the primary villain, and therefore arguably the Big Bad, cannot be underestimated. Tellingly, the Bank of Evil where he works was formerly Lehman Brothers.
  • The plot of Drag Me to Hell is kickstarted when Christine makes a tough call and chooses not to extend an evil gypsy's loan a third time. The Fantastic Aesop? Let the gypsy win. Or don't let her take bank loans.
  • In It's a Wonderful Life, this trope is zig-zagged, featuring Mr. Potter, a Corrupt Corporate Executive running a big bank,[1] and George Bailey, who runs a small, honest savings & loan business trying to help people achieve the American Dream).
  • In Mary Poppins, the owners of the bank Mr. Banks work at, who are willing to basically force a child to part with a shilling to "invest it" against his will. However, by the end they seriously lighten up.
  • Disney's The Princess and the Frog has Tiana apply for a loan to start her dream restaurant from two bankers who offhandedly deny her due to her social position. By the film's end, her new alligator friend threatens eating them so they'll give her the loan.
  • Aunt May and Peter Parker had to deal with one in Spider-Man 2, who on top of denying their loan, denies them a coupon for a free toaster. He was shown to be greedy enough to try to steal a coin from the bank when Doc Ock was robbing it. Considering that Sam Raimi directed both Drag Me to Hell and this movie, one has to wonder whether he really doesn't like bankers.
  • The Banking Clan in Star Wars is Planet of Hats of these.
  • In Warrior, Brandon runs into such a banker, whose bad advice led to Brandon's debt growing and a possible foreclosure. To really rub it in, he got his daughter's illness mixed up because of "all the sob stories".
  • The banker in Wild Boys is a pompous jerkass despised by everyone, including his wife.
  • In X-Men: First Class, Magneto interrogates a Swiss banker - whose bank is responsible for storing Nazi Gold - on the location of a high-ranking former Nazi.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Alas, Babylon has Edgar Quisenberry, who judges everyone by their wealth and has a personal grudge against the main character because of a social slight by his father. He's old, stodgy and conservative. When the shit hits the fan, he completely misjudges the situation and makes things worse. The he goes home and faces the future in a calm, rational fashion.
  • In Harry Potter, the bankers at Gringotts are literally goblins who set deadly traps to guard the money under their care. They aren't any more hospitable in the sympathy department either, merrily gloating over dead bank robbers.
  • In Making Money, the Lavish family which dominates the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork fits, with the exception of Topsy, who was born into the Turvy family and is only a Lavish by marriage.
  • Robert Putney Drake from the Illuminatus trilogy leads a double life as a respectable banker and the supreme ruler of the International Crime Syndicate. He claims to own the United States in far more real sense than any President has. He's actually presented as slightly sympathetic figure despite of all the atrocities he's committed, and he ends up helping the good guys after some persuasion.
  • Danglars from The Count of Monte Cristo. Not only does he make stupid investments with his client's money, but when it catches up to him he runs for it with what's left of it. And of course, he wrote the letter that got Dantes imprisoned in the first place.
  • Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the most famous examples, though Character Development pulls him out of it by the end of the book.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Mr. Drysdale, the manager of the bank in which The Beverly Hillbillies have their money stored. All he cares about is keeping their money in his bank.
  • Amanda's, a failed American attempt to remake Fawlty Towers with Bea Arthur in the Basil Fawlty role, included a grasping banker called Clifford Mundy, who was constantly scheming to gain possession of the hotel. He possibly contributed to the failure of the show by making the Amanda character too sympathetic, thereby missing what made Fawlty Towers funny in the first place.
  • Mr. Mooney, Lucy's boss on The Lucy Show, was sometimes portrayed this way, though the fact that he continued to employ Lucy, despite her incompetence, suggests that he did have at least some compassion.

Theatre[edit | hide]

  • Shylock from The Merchant of Venice, though he is at least slightly sympathetic and cares less about money than revenge.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • An episode of Casper the Friendly Ghost had both an aversion and a straight example. Dr. Harvey takes out a loan with the local bank to pay for Kat's music lessons; the banker here is warm and friendly, and readily gives the loan despite Dr. Harvey's checkered credit history because there's nothing sweeter than a child singing. However, as soon as Dr. Harvey leaves, the local bank is taken over by Pennypincher Banking, whose corrupt CEO immediately forecloses on Whipstaff Manor.
  1. By the standards of the day, it was big. Probably today it would have been bought out five times by consecutively bigger banks to become part of JP Morgan Chase or something.