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Department of Finance

"Financial markets have an immense potential to drive positive change"

Initiative in Sustainable Finance: An interview with Prof. Dr. Alexander F. Wagner

Professor Wagner on the historic balcony of the University of Zurich

Alexander Wagner is Professor of Finance at the Department of Finance of the University of Zurich (UZH) and a Senior Chair at the Swiss Finance Institute (SFI). In his research, and as part of the Initiative in Sustainable Finance, Wagner investigates fundamental behavioral drivers of human behavior and how financial actors evaluate risks arising from climate change and losses in biodiversity. 

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Q: Dr. Wagner, your research is highly interdisciplinary drawing on economics, finance, psychology, politics, and legal research. What drew you to this path?

A: The world is getting more complex and connected. It makes sense that researchers try to integrate multiple approaches. Blending disciplines allows me to analyze financial markets through a particularly colorful lens, considering not just numbers but also human behavior more broadly.

Q: How does interdisciplinary work help us better understand society at large? Can you give an example from your research?

A: Sustainability is not only about “green” versus “brown”. It is also about responsibility in business more broadly. For example, temptations for fraud and dishonesty are everywhere, so an intriguing question is how companies can ensure that managers and employees act with integrity.

In my work, I have shown that individuals surprisingly often choose honesty over profit.1 This finding challenges traditional economic models which emphasize self-interested, economically rational human beings. I am very happy that more than 1.9 million people have watched my TEDx talk on this topic so far.

Carmen Tanner, Associate Professor of Responsibility in Finance

This work is also the foundation for a range of projects. For example, many companies suggest that employees ask themselves questions like “What if your behavior is reported in the newspaper tomorrow?” Strikingly, there is almost no research investigating when and how such contemplation questions work. Together with my UZH colleague Carmen Tanner and our research team, we explore how different personality types adapt their behavior once they contemplate such questions.

Carmen Tanner is Associate Professor of Responsibility in Finance at the Department of Finance. Her focus lies on conducting research and developing strategies to help business & finance putting ethical values into practice.

Q: What other research projects are you currently excited about?

The loss of biodiversity is a major challenge for society. Within the Initiative for Sustainable Finance, I work with my colleague Zacharias Sautner. We introduce a measure for a firm’s negative impact on biodiversity, which we call the corporate biodiversity footprint. We find that stock markets have begun to attach a risk premium to firms that have a particularly damaging effect on biodiversity.2 This is an intriguing first result. In the future, I want to dive deeper into nature-related risks and natural capital. In my view, financial markets have immense potential to drive positive change, and understanding how they work can ultimately help to pave the way for a more sustainable future.


1 Gibson, R., Tanner, C., & Wagner, A. F. (2013). Preferences for truthfulness: Heterogeneity among and within individuals. American Economic Review, 103 (1), 532-548. Accessible at:

2 Garel, A., Romec, A., Sautner, Z., & Wagner, A. F. (2024). Do investors care about biodiversity? Review of Finance, forthcoming. Accessible at: