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Are we finally seeing a move towards a more ethical culture in banking?

Ksenia Zheltoukhova

18 January 2013

Yesterday (17 Jan), Anthony Jenkins put his foot down on unethical behaviour in Barclays by emphasising the five values that all staff will have to adhere to if they want to continue with the bank: respect, integrity, service, excellence and stewardship. He warned that unethical behaviour by individual employees is detrimental to building customer trust, and outlined the priorities for rectifying the causes rather than symptoms of malpractice.

Such message from senior management – admitting mistakes but also setting a course for positive change - is a welcome sign of the evolution of organisational culture. Most importantly, Barclays is introducing a set of measurable criteria to monitor observance of the corporate standards. Increasingly, organisations appear to be realising the benefits that a strong employer brand has for both the bottom line and talent attraction, yet few have gone from stating the values externally to implementing them across the workforce.

Anthony Jenkins said,

"Performance assessment will be based not just on what we deliver but on how we deliver it. We must never again be in a position of rewarding people for making the bank money in a way which is unethical or inconsistent with our values."

Another promising point is the inclusion of stewardship as one of Barclays’ core values. Caring is a term rarely applied in conjunction with organisational practice – at least not in highly competitive, target-oriented sectors such as banking. At the same time, recent leadership theories suggest that people-oriented behaviours, as opposed to pure task management, reap organisational and individual level outcomes in terms of productivity, organisational commitment and customer service. 

The Work Foundation’s research, in collaboration with the Bank Workers Charity and Robertson Cooper, shows that many employees in the banking sector feel a lack of fairness and erosion of wider values at the heart of their organisation. On Monday (21 Jan), The Work Foundation is hosting a webinar with Stephen Lloyd, HRD at Santander, Paul Farmer, CEO of MIND, and Fred Payne, CEO of Bank Workers Charity, to discuss the  full range of implications if employers in the banking sector fail to adopt a more flexible, individualised approach.  It seems that the call for a more ethical, value-oriented approach is long overdue.