Doing (and discussing) the right thing

One of my favourite days teaching with the International Academy of Retail Banking in the last year or so was in Lagos, Nigeria where the subject of the day was Ethics. As most people will know, Nigeria has a certain reputation and no-one is more aware of that than Nigerians themselves.

I remember starting the day off with the tongue in cheek statement that “today’s class may be over in less than one hour or we may still be here at 10pm…the choice is yours depending upon your views”. In fact we had a fantastic day and the amount of interaction and debate amongst the class was excellent.

Our discussion naturally took us away from banking and into Nigerian politics and corrupt officials in government, but as we came back to banking it was clear that many amongst the class had already faced some difficult decisions in respect of complying with instructions from supervisors that they thought were wrong; the dilemma being “do I refuse and face the consequences for my job and career or do I comply against my own personal virtues and beliefs”.

It was re-assuring to them that a similar dilemma had been faced by many people in banking across the world, not least in the UK where the “mis-selling” of so many products has become evident in the last decade or so. For many it wasn’t simply your bonus that was at risk if you failed to hit your PPP targets, but your salary and job as well. Faced with such pressure, what options are available to you? What would you do?

In the class we debated at length the issue of culture and relativism. In a culture where corruption is known to exist and is almost endemic, what impact does that have on an individual and their own personal values? Does the judgement of whether an action is “ethical” vary from time to time relative to some kind of norms in society? In other words does what is morally right vary from time to time?

Time will tell whether this class makes the right or wrong decisions in their chosen profession and in their personal lives. But I am pretty sure that, like me, they are better informed to make those decisions having participated in the Ethics module of the IARB.

Retail banking should be a profession

The International Academy of Retail Banking welcomes the proposals of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards.

The IARB provided evidence to the Parliamentary Commission in which it emphasised that the absence of a culture of professional standards in British banking has had serious consequences for consumers and small businesses – primarily because of a culture of mis-selling.

The Academy stressed that professional standards provide bankers with a conceptual framework to guide their relations with customers and that change is needed to ensure London’s standing as an international financial centre.

A recent survey showed that 60 percent of UK residents do not trust our banks.  Banking is different. It has yet to mature into a profession in the same way as law and accountancy…and it’s high time that it did. A separated, independent retail banking sector should be led by professionally-qualified retail bankers, bound by an ethical code similar to those already in place for accountants and lawyers. We have proposed a complete separation of retail from investment banking.  It is easier to create an ethical culture and introduce professional banking standards when the dissonance coming from a clash of retail and investment banking is eliminated.  At IARB, we recognise the increasingly important role of retail banking and the need for a high level of professionalism, coupled with an ethical approach. This is the future. IARB is already teaching bankers not just the skills but also the values behind the delivery of ethical and profitable retail banking.

Abdul Rahman, Academic Director at IARB, agrees: “Values cannot be regulated and so the professionalisation of retail banking staff is paramount.” According to Albert Einstein, “The most important human endeavour is the striving for morality in our actions.”  Ethical, educated and engaged bank employees who put customers first and foremost are required to bring retail banking into its rightful place of being a noble profession.