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Blog series – Revd Dr Fiona Stewart-Darling

In advance of our event at the Bank of England on 21 March 2017, we asked interested parties to write on the theme: Worthy of trust? Law, ethics and culture in banking…

 

Post the financial crisis across the banking industry the behaviour and culture of the banks and bankers have been under intense scrutiny, and questions have been asked such as: How did this happen? How can we ensure that this never happens again? Jim Wallis, the public theologian and international commentator on ethics in public life, said at the World Economic Forum in January 2009 that the question we should ask of the world’s political and business leaders is ‘How will this crisis change us?’ This has inspired me and shaped my thinking about the role of faith in restoring trust within the financial industry.

As a multifaith chaplaincy team we are committed to offer assistance in promoting the role and value of wisdom from a faith perspective, as it helps to bring a more integrated approach and give a wider context to values and ethics. In the long term, helping employees to take joint responsibility for decisions and actions benefits the company, its core business and the wider community.

As chaplains, we understand from our experience as members of faith communities that human beings are relational and flourish more fully in a community than in isolation, and from within a community where wisdom is shared and behaviour can be learnt. Global banks are much more than a system or faceless structure; within them is a diverse community of people working together to deliver all the core activities. So when senior business leaders talk of changing the banking culture within their organizations, they are recreating an internal culture to ensure that their employees participate as responsible members of the community, living out their espoused values and ethical standards in the way they deliver all their bank’s core activities. For these to take root, it must be a communal activity and their employees’ importance for the business and the wider community must be made clear. Each employee has a part to play.

Often when referring to an individual’s values and ethics, the term ‘moral compass’ is used, which the Cambridge Dictionary defines as a natural feeling that makes people know what is right and wrong and how they should behave. As a chaplain, I want to suggest that it is more than a ‘feeling’ that is natural but is rooted in something deeper, a conscience that is shaped by background, upbringing, education, nationality and, for some, religious belief. The values and ethics expected of us within the workplace should not be seen in isolation from the rest of a person’s life but should provide the magnetic ‘pull’ of their ‘moral compass’ and be intrinsically linked with how they live within a community – in this context the local workplace community – and its relationship with the global community.

Moral and spiritual questions are important and can assist with the consideration for the wider and maybe long-term implications of an action or decision. They also can be helpful for dealing with genuine human mistakes or misjudgements, encouraging a positive atmosphere for people to own up or seek help to sort out issues and move forward before things become catastrophic. It is important that asking moral and spiritual questions is seen as strength and not weakness and that it is understood that they contribute to the collective wisdom within any team.

Revd Dr Fiona Stewart-Darling, Canary Wharf Multifaith Chaplaincy

Senior Managers and Certification Regime

Exploring how the SMCR - and especially Certification - can be implemented in the most effective way across the sector.

The Senior Managers and Certification Regime is a major regulatory change that will affect all banks and building societies. Responding to recommendations by the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, the government and regulators have together developed a comprehensive framework to ensure better accountability and responsibility for behaviour, competence and culture in banks and building societies. The new framework provides an opportunity for the industry to focus on and demonstrate a culture of professionalism. We are working with firms and regulators to facilitate this, including areas where a common approach across firms could support both the objectives of the regime and the skills and development of the people covered by it.

Professionalism

Evaluating whether a more 'professional' approach to banking would improve behaviour and competence across the industry.

The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards found that 'banking culture has all too often been characterised by an absence of any sense of collective responsibility to uphold the reputation of the industry', and argued that a greater focus on professionalism could be an answer to this. Working with a leading team at the University of Leeds, we are researching the issues around professionalism in banking. In particular, we are reviewing how professional qualifications are currently used across the sector, and at whether a stronger role for professional bodies, along the lines seen in some other sectors, like medicine or law, would help raise standards. To inform this work and develop a rounded picture of 'professionalism' and what it means in banking, we are surveying banks and building societies, professional bodies and a wide range of other interested groups, including consumer bodies and investors.

Assessments

Providing an honest and impartial assessment to Boards of progress against objectives on behaviour, competence and culture.

The BSB assessment exercise presents Boards with an objective and impartial view of their firm's culture, identifying where things are working well and recommending areas for improvement. It draws on information not only from Boards and senior teams, but also from employees, investors (or members), trade unions, customer groups and other relevant bodies. In doing so, it will provide constructive challenge to each firm individually, while building a collective understanding of common issues across the industry, or sectors within it. We undertook our first annual assessment exercise in 2015 with ten firms (Barclays, Citi, HSBC Bank, Lloyds Banking Group, Metro Bank, Morgan Stanley International, Nationwide, RBS, Santander UK and Standard Chartered). The BSB itself will not publish individual assessment reports - each firm owns its own report - but key themes and messages will be set out in the BSB's annual report, the first of which will be published in Spring 2016. Given that Board engagement is central to the assessment work, only firms that have their headquarters in the UK are eligible for the full assessment exercise. All firms, including branches of firms headquartered overseas, will however be included in a focused membership-wide survey, which will allow each participating firm to benchmark itself against its peer group.

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