Oct 10, 2014 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

The world has changed drastically since the financial crisis of 2008, and not just in terms of depleted bank accounts and diminished trust in the financial sector. While it’s easy to dwell on the downsides of the crash, the recovery process has yielded an unexpected consequence: consumers have new expectations for a financial sector that is not only ethical but also sustainable. Today's most innovative business school are focused on creating socially responsible leaders with a holistic perspective on the evolving global economy as well as a unique commitment to shaping a sustainable financial industry.

A New Mindset

In the years since the financial crash, many business schools have revamped their curricula to increasingly account for ethics within the sector, according to a Financial Times poll of students from top-ranked Masters in Finance programs. Read more about the Top Masters in Finance Programs here.

How much so? In 2008 -- during the peak of the crisis -- a mere third of students named social responsibility as a component of their degree programs. Just two years later in the wake of the crash, a full two-thirds of students from the same institutions cited social responsibility as part of the curriculum. A whopping 83 percent of the class of 2010, meanwhile, expressed the belief that increased transparency was imperative in the financial sector, in everything from the loan process to community engagement.

And while the black and white extremes of "right" and "wrong" may come to mind for many people in discussing ethics, this is an oversimplification when applied to the finance sector. The lesson schools are working to teach pertains to a need for self-reflection. Read more about MBA programs in Finance.

Leading the Charge

The Duisenberg School of Finance in the Netherlands is one such institution which responded to the crash with meaningful change. Duisenberg is now committed to offering students an integrated macro-view -- or "big picture" perspective -- of global finance. Duisenberg isn't just churning out future money managers, but leaders who take the broadest possible view of finance, and understand its impact -- both in the business world and within society at large. The school's Risk program, in particular, expresses this new mode of thinking by focusing on corporate sustainability and the long-term financial health of an organization.

But this progressive mindset isn't limited to Duisenberg's curriculum; it is also part of the school's unique culture. The first talk in Duisenberg's Young Financials Dialogues series was delivered by Colonel Egon Hoppe, Commandant of the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee Centre for Training and Expertise. In his presentation, Colonel Hoppe challenged students to think of the importance of service. He explained, "I do not believe in people who separate work and private life." Colonel Hoppe also urged students to set an example and strive toward transparency. He stressed the critical importance of open lines communication between businesses and customers -- a key to better understanding between two potentially disparate entities. Read more about the programs offered at Duisenberg School of Finance here.

Duisenberg's faculties are also making change through innovative research and thought leadership. An example? Associate Professor of Finance at VU University Amsterdam and Research Fellow at TI-Duisenberg School of Finance Albert Menkveld and co-author Marius Zoican recently published a paper going against the common belief that high frequency trading (HFT) promotes liquidity. Their argument? That increased exchange competition caused by algorithmic trading is not only detrimental to the human investor, but also ends up potentially hurting liquidity.

In short, the degrees to which HFTs can trade more quickly -- a mere 2.21 milliseconds per trade (in other words, faster than the speed of light) -- are not in themselves significant enough to be relevant in terms of price benefit. Instead, they lead to a "socially costly arms race," between HFT money makers and HFT speculators with human traders caught in the crosshairs.

But Professors Menkveld and Zoican don't stop there. They're in pursuit of the larger question: just how fast should trading be, and how can the markets best maximize benefits and trim costs?

The Next Generation

The harshest critics of the financial industry as determined by results from the Financial Times study, were the students themselves, who were simultaneously skeptical about the industry and committed to a future with more social responsibility. Read more about Corporate Social Responsibility programs.

2014 Duisenberg Battle thesis competition winner Sindram Reap perhaps said it best in an interview following his receipt of the award: "Many professionals in the industry also had an awakening and started to realize that they cannot go on as they did. I believe that the themes sustainability and responsibility now become true business practices and not solely advertising slogans." Reap further expressed his gratitude to Duisenberg for having the foresight to incorporate these changes into the curriculum.

Businesses, too, are jumping on the social responsibility bandwagon. A partner of the Duisenberg school, multinational life insurance, pensions and asset management company Aegon recently won the prestigious Building Public Trust Award 2014 for its integrated reporting and delivery of financial promises to its customers, employees and investors. The company was congratulated for “showing the way forward,” by judging panel chair Charles Tilley.

As more consumers call for transparency and social awareness by rewarding companies like Aegon with their loyalty and dollars, more organizations will follow suit.

Aspiring toward the status quo lost its meaning for many after the 2008 financial crash. Instead, consumers began to aspire toward something better and different. Today's most innovative business schools have met this demand by turning their backs on the packaged, pre-crash curricula and seizing the opportunity to pave the way for positive change, social responsibility and sustainability in the finance sector.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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