In an effort to restore trust in the banking sector, the Advisory Committee on the Future of Banks in the Netherlands made a recommendation, which has since been adopted, that bank executives be required to swear an oath akin to the physician's Hippocratic Oath. This examination of the prospects of the Dutch banker's oath addresses two broad issues. One issue is the efficacy of oaths themselves as instruments for achieving the desired end. A second issue concerns the extent to which this particular oath is a useful guide to ethical banking practice.
The BFO’s Cris Parker took her idea of 'It’s time to start believing in the inherent good of our financial services sector' to the TedXSydney stage at the Opera House recently, when she was selected out of 180 submissions to be one of 20 finalists to pitch her idea ahead of the 2019 event.
In this article, Simon Russell of Behavioural Finance Australia looks at ways individuals can translate The Banking and Finance Oath in to practical terms for themselves, and their teams.
In the end, rules, systems, processes and practices are necessary, but having the right culture and performance depends, in the Commissioner's words, "Upon people applying the right standards and doing their job properly".
Photo courtesy of ABC
Almost all scholars agree that we have ethical rules and standards for one essential reason—to enable collaboration among relatively small groups of people. Why small groups? Because modern humans—and their immediate (and unfortunately extinct) cousins (Neanderthals, Denisovans and so forth)—and their distant ancestors (from the common ancestor of us and chimps to Homo erectus) all lived in small groups, so specialising in relating to a small group of individuals became hardwired into our DNA.
Although the Oath is taken by the individual, there are occasions where an organisation will ask all employees to consider taking the Oath, thus becoming 100% committed. This process provides an opportunity for the entire organisation to consider the alignment between their own values and those of the organisation. It provides a common ethical framework with which they can hold each other to account. Heartland Senior Finance made this commitment and it allowed for self-reflection on what a 'sustainable future' means to them.
The growth and adoption of responsible investment is a global phenomenon. Time and again over the last few years we have heard that a tipping point has been reached.
That responsible investing is mainstream.
It’s often claimed that the discipline of financial planning has made considerable progress since its inception some fifty years ago. That may well be true, depending on your definition of the word ‘progress’.
Copies of newspaper articles, magazine articles, journal articles, reports, books and graphs directly benefit thousands of organisations in Australia, who use them to influence, be strategic in decision-making and achieve corporate objectives. Good Copyright Governance is ensuring that the creators of these pieces are being recognised and compensated fairly for their work.
A business case that ignores social issues is no case at all. The business case has not traditionally included the ethical rationale or the moral justification. Fortunately, making the business case for ethics is getting easier.
Factors such as complexity and sophistication of products and services, distribution channels, customer demands and unprecedented advances in technology have resulted in increased political and regulatory intervention into business. GRC professionals are at the forefront of these changes and can contribute as a culture change agent.
Naomi Burley, MD GRC Institute has a look at how compliance and an Oath can go hand in hand.
While working their Banking Governance & Culture Project, the Maturity Institute in the UK came accross National Australia Bank (NAB) and in turn The Banking and Finance Oath.
Tim Gorst, Actuary and BFO Signatory, tells us about the increasing focus on risk culture in financial services and the role of the effective professional.
What role do middle=management play in creating ethical work cultures?
People often view human behaviour in one of two ways. They either see humans as motivated, almost purely, by self-interest or they believe we are inherently humane creatures, concerned for others.
The world abounds with examples of the former (self-interest), particularly in the business world and even more so in banking and finance. I remain hopeful however that more of us operate according to the latter.
A look at how we can make better decisions, more of the time
It’s not uncommon for adults to reflect back on their teenage years and wonder, ‘What was I thinking?’ There may be particular decisions you made that make you question what type of person you were and why you did what you did. The answer for some will be peer group pressure – which is particularly intense in our formative years. But what excuse do we have as adults for poor decisions? The answer is – many!
How does an organisation recover and rebuild from ethical failure? What do you do when you have failed your ethical duties as an organisation, and significantly compromised trust with your stakeholders? These are difficult times for any organisation. The good news is, I do believe that organisations can emerge from ethical failure stronger than what they were prior to the incident.
How the language we use at work can undermine the very cultures we wish to create.
As the banking and finance industry is increasingly held to account by the public, and regulators attempt to grapple with how to best manage risk, the consideration of the role of language in both creating and undermining ethical work cultures is essential.
Today, starting a business often requires getting a loan. Yet more often than not, getting a loan requires some form of collateral as security. As traditional types of security like the family home become further out of reach for the incoming generation of entrepreneurs, how will our traditional approach to lending need to change?
Do companies exist solely to advance the interests of their shareholders, or do they have a broader social obligation? Professor David R Gallagher recognises that this question has been debated since the advent of the limited liability company in the seventeenth century and explores why a question that previously remained largely confined within a scholarly domain has recently become an issue of mainstream social concern.
Ironically, it seems like one of the ethical issues faced by people in the banking and finance industry is whether or not to take The Banking and Finance Oath (BFO). Trent identifies two central dilemmas. Firstly, that the Oath is taken with the right motivation or intent; and secondly, whether or not The BFO will actually have a positive effect – on the individual and on the wider industry.
Some may ask how much one’s word is really worth. When some look at The Banking and Finance Oath and critique the initiative, they ask, ‘Can it really do anything?’ It’s just words after all.
Barrister Nicolette Bearup writes of the need for the finance industry to rebuild trust particularly in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, through ethical leadership that brings about real cultural change. She explores the potential of the Banking and Finance Oath and considers whether anything might be learned from current practice in the legal profession.
Clare Payne, Board Member of the BFO and Consulting Fellow with St James Ethics Centre, asserts the significance of the BFO in working towards a self-regulating, ethically conscious industry. She writes of the need to recognise that ethics and banking are not incongruous terms and should never be considered in common discourse. In light of this, Clare encourages signatories to use the BFO as an opportunity to spark that conversation.
Dennis Gentilin laments the paradigm shift over the past thirty years within the banking and finance industry; from a humble and highly respected profession to a selfish and often greedy moneymaking pursuit. To rectify this cultural malaise, he encourages taking The Banking and Finance Oath as a first step, and to live by its principles throughout one’s professional life.
We have produced a video to increase the awareness of the BFO within the industry and the community at large and hope that you will share it with colleagues and friends.
Louise Drolz, Principal at Remedy Financial, speaks of a personal situation in which she has followed the BFO: “I will speak out against wrongdoing and support others who do the same”. She has followed through on this action with pride and strength despite it being a difficult decision, and emphasises that there is no “unless it’s to my detriment” addendum.
Kathleen Gilbert, the Ethi-call Coordinator, writes of the temptation to take the easy way out when faced with a difficult ethical dilemma. In such situations, she suggests the service offered by Ethi-call, a free and confidential ethics counselling service facilitated by St James Ethics Centre. On behalf of Ethi-call, Kathleen supports the BFO in providing useful guidance to individuals who might be struggling with an ethical dilemma.
Mark Rantall, CEO of the Financial Planning Association, reflects on his experience at a St. James Ethics course. He discusses the increasingly pertinent, yet seemingly brushed aside, “grey area” in ethical practice in the banking and finance industry. He stresses that when your profession is based on a foundation of trust, it is critical that you do everything to enshrine that trust, protect it and promote it. Taking the BFO is significant way to do this.
Watch two of Australia’s leaders in banking and finance, Mr. Simon McKeon AO (Chairman of AMP) and Mr. Steve Tucker (Executive Chairman of Westoz Investment Management), in a compelling discussion with Dr. Simon Longstaff AO (Executive Director of St James ethics Centre). They discuss critical moments in their careers where they came to an ethical crossroads, making decisions sometimes with ease and at other times testing their moral boundaries.
The Executive Director of St. James Ethics Centre, Dr. Simon Longstaff, ruminates on the origins of ethical shortcomings in the banking and finance industry. He suggests that the majority of wrongdoers are not usually avaricious and manipulative characters, but in fact moderately decent people who are engaging in practices they consider commonplace. This needs to change, starting with the recognition of ethical standards and the inter-personal accountability perpetuated by the BFO.