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Ethics and compromise don’t mix

by Robin Christie | 28 Oct 2015

Competition may be crucial to the health of the banking and finance industry, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of ethical behaviour.

This is one of the driving principles behind Women in Financial Services Award winner, Clare Payne’s work in driving the Banking and Finance Oath (BFO).

Payne won the Industry Advocacy Award last week, which recognises women who have shown a strong commitment to improving the image of the financial services industry ― particularly through involvement in specific industry programs in order to provide better outcomes for those working in the sector on a policy level.

She explained that her award-winning efforts kicked off back in 2009, while she was managing Macquarie Bank’s integrity office. While working in this role, she decided that there ought to be an industry wide principle that “you can compete on everything, but you shouldn't compete on the ethical foundations”.

Payne, who currently holds the position of Consulting Fellow for Ethics in Banking and Finance at The Ethics Centre, went on to write over 200 letters to industry leaders and, 60-plus meetings later, the Banking and Finance Ethics Panel was launched

“The initiative that came out of that was the Banking and Finance Oath. We were looking to individual accountability, and getting down to individual behaviour and responsibility ― because obviously at the end of the day the industry's made up of individuals,” Payne explained.

“People have a career as a banking professional and they move across different organisations throughout. So it tries to acknowledge that, rather than organisations all having their own set of values and standards, it sets an industry standard for individual behaviour.”

Gaining traction

Given that the oath represents an individual commitment to ethical behaviour, Payne said that the BFO team have been reluctant to market it in a big way. Instead, they aimed to get industry leaders to take the oath and allow the initiative to grow from there.

“We haven't done public campaigns because we've wanted to protect the integrity of it, which has meant probably that progress has been slower than it otherwise may have been. But it's been about the calibre of people we've got on board,” said Payne. 

She pointed to RBA Governor, Glenn Stevens, as a high profile BFO signatory and public promoter of the initiative. Other senior industry leaders to have taken the oath include Finsia CEO, Russell Thomas, and former ANZ Australia CEO, Phil Chronican.

“I think people talk about it more and it's more well-known, so I think soon it will reach that tipping point,” said Payne, who added that the BFO’s young ambassadors and elders programs are among the initiatives that should help the oath to gain further traction.

“I think people are seeing value in these additional programs that support the BFO in their organisation. And they can replicate those same programs within their own organisation as well,” she said.

Future leaders

Payne has worked closely with the tertiary education sector to ensure ethics is embedded in course materials, and she said that this helps to prepare the next generation of finance professionals for life in the industry. 

“I think what is good about having ethics embedded in university is that it gives students the language they need before they enter the workforce. It gives them language around ethics, values, morals and dilemmas,” she said.

“I think they have a totally different perspective, and I feel really positive about it.”

While she said that young people who are new to the finance sector could struggle to find the confidence to speak up on ethical issues, she pointed out that this isn’t just an issue that affects new entrants. Experienced, but shy, professionals could also face the same problems.

But Payne believes that there’s a lot that organisations can do to encourage staff members to speak out on ethical issues, such as having a dedicated contact person or hotline for integrity issues.

#taketheoath

To take the Banking and Finance Oath, visit www.thebfo.org. If you have taken the oath and want to encourage your colleagues to do so, discuss on social media using #taketheoath and #thebfo.

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