Oath speakers believe banks can change

Tuesday 30 July, 2019
By Alex Sampson, Banking Daily
Australian banks and their bosses are capable of change. That will be the message at the Banking and Finance Oath conference next month.
Australian banks and their bosses are capable of change. That will be the message at the Banking and Finance Oath conference next month.

Shade Zahrai from culture and engagement trainer Influenceo Group said any sector was capable of change.

“But whether the sector will change, and do so quick enough to meet the requirements of regulators while maintaining customer trust, rests on the mindset of the leaders and how effectively they transform the internal culture,” Zahrai said.

“Cultural change within organisations takes time, especially those with an established history and legacy paradigms that are embedded into the organisation fabric. “But it can be done. And if there were ever a more opportune time for the sector to reorient and uphold its duty to customers and the community, it is now.”

The oath is an independent initiative developed in affiliation with non-profit conduct specialist The Ethics Centre and seeks to strengthen the foundation of the financial services industry by encouraging ethical behaviour.

It has had 2,937 signatories since inception in 2012, and a relaunch of the oath commenced in April with the group's first advertising campaign, which ran in the Australian Financial Review.

A central aim of the oath is "to encourage a strong ethical framework for individuals in our financial services industry. The values of integrity, honesty and trust must underpin the industry’s dealings with the Australian community".

Zahrai said: “Looking to the psychology research, there are countless studies that conclude most humans are capable of behaving in profoundly unethical ways”.

“And under certain conditions, dishonest and unethical behaviour can be contagious, especially where an individual or a group faces internal pressure to perform or ‘look good’.

“For some … when faced with external and organisational pressures like financial incentives, pressure from management, or acting from a place of fear, their subjective sense of ‘what is right’ becomes blurred.

“Where organisations have more long-sighted goals which put employee, customers and community interests as the priority instead of shareholder interests and immediate financial performance, it’s far easier for employees to feel empowered to uphold their own personal values and ethical behaviour becomes a no-brainer in the company’s value-based culture.”

Banking Oath conference speaker lineup
L-R: Culture and ethics experts University of Sydney senior law lecturer Dr Kym Sheehan, Shade Zahrai from culture and engagement trainer Influenceo Group and Flamingo AI founder and executive director Dr Catriona Wallace will be speaking at the Banking and Finance Oath conference in August. Image credit: supplied

Senior lecturer in law at the University of Sydney Dr Kym Sheehan thinks banks are capable of change, but this would have to be self-driven. “It has to come internally from the banks,” Sheehan said.

“One thing about law is it always sets a low standard of behaviour, so just to say you comply with the law is good, but not necessarily taking things to the place where your customers will say thank you, you helped me with my issues and you treated me really well.”

Sheehan will be on a panel speaking about the financial services human rights benchmark, which she is developing with Professor David Kinley at the University of Sydney Law School and delivering a report on international Human Rights Day in December.

The report will look at the human rights performance of ASX-listed financial services entities across five domains where they can impact human rights – retail, commercial lending investment and services, employees, supply chain and society. “With society we’re looking at their publicpolicy advocacy,” Sheehan said.

“When there’s an opportunity to respond to a law reform inquiry, or a consultation on an exposure draft of a piece of legislation that has relevance for the sector, are they taking a position which is supportive of human rights or one which would lead to a negative impact on human rights?

“What’s at the core of human rights is this concept of human dignity. It’s about recognising the individual person and treating them with respect and dignity. And we think that theme can be really useful for the financial services industry here in moving on from the behaviour that we saw in the royal commission report.”

Flamingo AI founder and executive director Dr Catriona Wallace will use her session at the conference to discuss artificial intelligence, machine learning, data and data encryption as they relate to banking.
“Technology, including AI, machine learning, cryptocurrency, blockchain, cyber security and internet of things are all developed far ahead of legislation, regulations and ethics,” Wallace said.

“The key question is how will the banking sector and government and regulatory bodies keep up? “I have made recommendations to government, ethics and governance bodies that they need to embed more deeply in the high tech and emerging tech companies, teams and our bodies so as to stay on top of developments and remain relevant."

Wallace said AI could allow for the sort of misconduct the royal commission detested most — misusing information for a bank's interests alone, adding to the power a bank had over its cutsomers. For example, making decisions about who receives a financial product based on information gathered by AI. “A lack of accountability, ethics, transparency and contestability should be regarded as misconduct,” Wallace said.

Wallace isn’t as optimistic that the sector can change. “I personally think it will be very difficult for the sector to change given the existing business models, management and leadership,” Wallace said.
“I hope that the royal commission has provided a burning platform for banking to radically transform, however, I am not yet sure that it has.”

Other speakers at the conference in Sydney on August 8 will include APRA chair Wayne Byres, and ABA chief Anna Bligh.

The Oath

  • Trust is the foundation of my profession.
  • I will serve all interests in good faith.
  • I will compete with honour.
  • I will pursue my ends with ethical restraint.
  • I will help create a sustainable future.
  • I will help create a more just society.
  • I will speak out against wrongdoing and support others who do the same.
  • I will accept responsibility for my actions.

In these and all other matters;
My word is my bond.

The Vision

A banking and finance industry that meets the community’s needs and has its full confidence thereby fulfilling its integral role in society.