Opinion

The Great Debate

A blueprint to make banks behave

By Jermyn Brooks
March 5, 2013

Banking integrity has become an oxymoron. Top bankers need to change this and take responsibility for tackling ethical issues. For this to happen, every part of the organization – from senior management to human resources managers to those on the trading floor and beyond – should be assessed according to the contribution it makes to promoting ethical values, not just the bottom line.

The investigations into the LIBOR rate-rigging scandal showed how commonplace bribery among dealers had become. For example, between September 2008 and August 2009 a single trader at the Royal Bank of Scotland had made corrupt payments to interbank brokers on 30 occasions, by means of risk-free transactions known as “wash trades.”

While the likes of Barclays and RBS have acknowledged wrongdoings and vowed to change course, it’s no longer enough to mollify critics with soothing words, apologies and empty gestures.

That is why we at Transparency International are challenging banks to immediately initiate sustained industry-wide reforms. These reforms should have the clear commitment and buy-in of the most senior bank executives. A new generation of banking management is needed, one that is prepared to devote as much time and money to developing ethical standards as they once spent on circumventing them.

Top regulators have also woken up to the need for change. The European Union made a strong start[PC3]  when it committed to cap banker bonuses at 100% of their base salary, with shareholders able to double them. This goes a long way toward tackling the wrong incentives that helped drive banking behavior to the brink in 2008, precipitating the crisis.

In a speech last month, Mark Carney, incoming governor of the Bank of England and chairman of the Financial Stability Board, gave a blunt assessment: “Banks need to participate actively in reform, not fight it. … The time for remorse is far from over.”

But apart from an appeal to bank executives to rediscover their core values, Carney was short of ideas. This is what needs to be done.

At a minimum, the industry must commit to best-practice standards of integrity and agree to a hard and fast timetable for implementation. There must be measurable progress and a dialogue with all stakeholders.

Yes, overhauling the culture of an organization is one of the biggest challenges a chief executive can face.  However, from our experience of engaging with companies and sectors beset with endemic corruption, we have learned a thing or two. We would prescribe the following medicine to an ailing financial sector:

  • Forge a new management culture:  The behavior of bank employees is not hard-wired. They are responding to short-term incentives and skewed values that are reinforced at every step of the career ladder, from initial recruitment to golden parachutes. Banks must put in place a sustainable management and leadership culture, together with the systems that underpin it (e.g., compliance monitoring, coaching, whistleblowing procedures, remuneration policies).
  • Sunshine is the best disinfectant: Banks can vastly improve their transparency, particularly public disclosure of their business models, their policies toward customers, relationships with governments (payments, lobbying, political party contributions) and the measures taken internally to deal with unethical behaviour.
  • Accountability, accountability, accountability: What has changed? What corrective action has been taken? At every step of this process of reform, the answers to these questions must be communicated to all those who have a stake in a bank’s proper functioning. This means not only “fireside chats” with supervisors, but with investors, customers, employees and civil society more widely.

In the past, these concerns have been farmed out to compliance or corporate responsibility departments. This should change with a commitment by senior management to do all this in a public and transparent way.

There is no quick fix. Cultural change requires a large investment of time and resources. Those who can show evidence of reform, however, may see some sheen restored to their tarnished reputations. Those content with empty promises will find that a culture of corruption and a string of fines are their only legacy.

PHOTO: Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney speaks to students at the Richard Ivey School of Business in London, Ontario, February 25, 2013.

Comments
3 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

I highly doubt that the banks will truly change their innate nature, that is to make as much money by any means possible as long as they can get away with it. To depend on the banks to regulate their own actions is ridiculous. It is like the old saying: Never send a wolf to guard the chicken house. The only way we can prevent abuses in the financial market is through tough regulations and penalties, including criminal penalties. Nothing in their history gives us any faith that they will change their ways. I just hope that the Obama administration does a better job than has been done and that DOJ Eric Holder gets a backbone, and that they go after the institutions and individuals responsible for the abuses.

Posted by attyrose | Report as abusive
 

Global Banking business: From laundering money on a global basis to
manipulating interest rates paid by consumers and businesses, to
improperly foreclosing on homeowners, engineered tax (saving) plans by
international banks and other ongoing misdeeds has cost the banks
(very well known ones) a record of over $10.7 billion in fines in
2012. It is expected to add another $5billion this year. How then to
save the international banks, their franchise and win back customer
trust and help the local economy and try and hope to avoid another
major global financial crisis:
Here is my mantra for all the big and well known international banks
who have done “very wrong financial deeds” in the recent past. Today
the only hope for these banks (after duly paying all the fines!!!) is
to follow this mantra (which will work) to win back “customer trust”.
The example given below is that of a competitor bank. My mantra
applies to all such banks to emulate: My personal research findings:
The objective today for the bank is to rebuild its franchise and
regain customer trust and business so that the group’s financials
improve further going forward. There is a sustainable way of doing
this to achieve success. Barclays Bank Group – Let’s do an out of the
box thinking: How to re-build a dead franchise. While the global media
bashing goes justifiably unabated, what Anthony Jenkins of Barclays is
doing right now is to try and set a workable framework of an ambitious
goal for the bank (give him a break) with all his timed initiatives to
save and grow the franchise. In this process, he is informing the
world that what is needed is a serious relook into the global
financial banking system. As starters, he is cleaning up his house by
timely communication to his staff that they better acclimatize and
adapt themselves to the new morality (purpose and values) failing
which … Here he is gearing to starting a long process of quality
enforcement exercise of re-establishing trust among its customers,
employees, investors and the society. He knows fully well that earning
huge returns for their shareholders and executives at the expense of
everyone else is since done and gone. Time has come to get the
shareholders buy in to actually go deep into the business mechanism
and build in ethics to give back to the community and the society at
large so as to reduce the growing trust deficit. What can Barclays
Bank do today to radically change its business model. A strong
commitment to the citizens of the country (where they operate) that
they will “stand by them” in assisting in actively managing the social
and environmental impact of doing business there and that they will
extend “full support” to the community where they operate for profit.
Today, if Barclays Bank Group wishes to go forward with redefining its
ethical approach and re-developing it’s very badly dented franchise
and renew business relationship with their customers, what is needed
is “empathy and a very very sincere effort to win back customer
trust”. One of the excellent ways to jump start this initiative is by
ably demonstrating their involvement in environmental and social
consideration in the countries that they are operating currently. In
order to make this happen, Barclays Bank need to create a mechanism
with the sole objective to better assist their key clients for
environmentally-friendly or socially-responsible transactions. What
does it entail: It requires a change of mindset to bring about full
integration of the needs for economic and social development with that
to conserve the environment. His team members should be able to
specifically address the banks customers needs with empathy and create
an “impact investment” situation and help with financial support and
advice about projects aimed at both financial profitability and social
impact (poverty reduction, job creation in disadvantaged areas,
environmental footprint minimisation, stock carbon, etc.). Examples
include the integration of environmental criteria into lending and
investment strategy and ! the development of new products that provide
environmental businesses with easier access to capital. This will make
it possible for the population concerned to increase their income in
various countries where Barclays is operating. Going forward the bank
should actually apply the Equator Principles, a voluntary credit risk
management framework with a set of guidelines for environmental and
social risk assessment in sustainable project finance activities. I
strongly feel that by adopting these principles, going forward,
Barclays Bank’s will be able to ensure their genuine intention to be
among the foremost in social and environmental responsibility issues
so as to fight against global warming and respect for human rights.
This can be a major imperative for Barclays to be effective and prove
that its stands by its commitment to the community by extending
support to local sustainable development efforts. This is the only
method to win back customer trust and rebuild the Barclays franchise
and image on a global basis.

Posted by bababa | Report as abusive
 

Yes, trying to overhaul the banks is a great idea, but governments, public and privte organisations and the banks themselves have been trying to make very slow and gradual changes for over 5 years now.

Move Your Money is trying to instigate a new way of creating change – if the customers leave in big numbers, someone will find a way to change how the bank operates.

As a charity, Move Your Money is trying to raise funds to help its marketing efforts and to host a big campign in September, well timed to arrive at the same time as the new legislation that makes switching your account easier and faster. If you really want to see change in the banking sector, pop over to their page on Buzzbnk and help fund them, and then start looking into where to move your money to.

Posted by akt4 | Report as abusive
 

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