Changing banking culture could be a fantasy

IBCB is ‘the last chance for banks to restore trust’ in the financial sector, Minister says

Michael D’Arcy, Minister of State for Finance, who spoke to bankers during the official launch of the new Irish Banking Culture Board, yesterday. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Michael D’Arcy, Minister of State for Finance, who spoke to bankers during the official launch of the new Irish Banking Culture Board, yesterday. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

Having stayed up into the early hours to catch the first episode of the final season of Game of Thrones, Michael D’Arcy, Minister of State for Finance, looked out into a sea of bankers in a Dublin hotel room on Monday and saw the fantasy drama’s warring families.

For D’Arcy, the new Irish Banking Culture Board, officially launched yesterday, is akin to the television series’ Stark family, one of its more honourable houses. The “challenge for banks”, however, is not to behave like the likes of the scheming Lannisters, he said.

The board is “the last chance for banks to restore trust” in the sector that has never been far from scandal in recent decades – most recently giving us the €1 billion tracker mortgage debacle.

The industry initiative has given itself the lofty goal of “rebuilding trust in the sector and promoting fair customer outcomes”. Regular banking worker surveys – similar to those carried out in the UK – will provide a benchmark for how serious the industry is about really putting customers first.

The outcome of the first such IBCB survey, published on Monday, sets a low base. Some 15 per cent of respondents in the country’s five retail banks saw instances where unethical behaviour was observed. A fifth said it was difficult to climb up the career ladder without “flexing their ethical standards”. More than half said they felt under excessive pressure at work.

The five banks, keen to be associated with some good news, flooded newsroom email inboxes welcoming the setting up of the IBCB as something of a watershed moment. While bank chiefs may be serious about the need for change, now comes the hard part.

Corporate culture is, as they say, how you act when nobody’s watching. As they seek to change the culture of their tarnished industry, bankers should be aware that everyone is now looking on.

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