UK Bankers’ Vowed to Become Ethical in 2011 … Promise Kept?

UK Bankers’ Vowed to Become Ethical in 2011 … Promise Kept?

Ethical Bankers’ Mea Culpa and Promise

After the crash in 2008, an enraged public and nervous/defensive/complicit political establishment demanded answers and change. You might say that’s hardly surprising considering the damage inflicted on the UK economy.

Hands Up

Ethical Professionalism trumps all - a statement of commitment

By 2011, with abject contrition, The City, Banking, and Financial Institutions held their hands up, admitting:

  • we are often crooked,
  • we collude with other crooked people in the sector
  • we regularly look the other way, and
  • we will change and sort this

They published  The Report on The Lord Mayor’s Conference on Trust and Values (November 2011). They affirmed an earnest intention to face failures and bring about a brand-spanking-new and ethical culture in the financial sector. In other words, from then on, the sector would live, breathe and demonstrate Ethical Professionalism.

Promises, promises

The promise made included statements like:

“…our perspective and actions will be guided by a new moral code, appreciation for the consequences of our actions, and a sincere belief in collective responsibility and shared success.”

The term Ethical Professionalism summarised the promise of new virtuous relationships throughout Banking, the Financial Sector and their dealings in all situations.

Our financiers self-flagellated as they took up their chosen gauntlet, intending to become demonstrably “fair, honest and trustworthy”  — some admission. Their challenge was human, procedural, auditable and institutional. Now, 12 years on, how is the promise doing?

Making it happen

In 2011, with one voice, top Finance and Banking leaders embraced cultural change with a businesslike, almost (faux?) evangelical zeal. An observer might have wondered how close expensively pinstriped buttocks smouldered from proximity to a glowing (potentially hypocritical?) Government barbecue.

Recently, I shared their term, Ethical Professionalism, with a top manager I know. After suggesting the term was unclear, his choice of fruity words and cynical laughter still rings in my ears. A signal, perhaps, of the scale of the task awaiting banking and  finance climbers on their transformational North face of the Eiger for sure.

Good Intent

ethical professionalism tomorrow's companyAdopting Ethical Professionalism was intended to avoid the possibility of another calamitous meltdown or unavoidable and severe Government action. The City faced the need to win back credibility with the public, press and regulators.

At the start of his term, the Lord Mayor of London [link now dead] put his weight behind an initiative called Trust and Values in the City [link now dead], a conference was run in November 2011. There, City grandee and Chair of Lazard International, Ken Costa, spoke on the topic: Reconnecting the Financial and the Ethical, an expressive and apposite title.

Other professions engaged. The CIPD’s CEO, Peter Cheese, stated on the People Management website [link now dead] HR is key to restoring trust in Banking. This suggested how training, change and development skills, amongst others, would contribute to success.

Lady Susan Rice advised the importance of “our behaviours, our mindset, our judgements;” and went on to state the need for “Ethical Professionalism” throughout; perhaps she coined the term. The CBI offered a Code of Ethics and Professionalism in the Banking and Finance Industry [link now dead there were at least two produced in 2009 and 2011], a serious endorsement from a major British Institution.

So far, so good?

In March 2015, Harvard Business Review reported that little had changed. This even though JP Morgan had hired an extra 13,000 people in compliance over the previous three years.

By June 2022, IBM reported The next era in banking starts with reframing trust. Once more,  further cultural tweaking (or at least reframing) was needed. Whatever happened, the precise words “Ethical Professionalism” are hard to find with a Google search.

Did Ethical Professionalism have a name change and move forward, at pace, from a concept and proto-policy to a sound reality, or did it simply rise without a trace? Did it transform views of the Banking and Finance sectors? How well did the government follow through? It is uncertain, perhaps even improbable. Undoubtedly further soul-searching and action is needed?

Exchanges around Ethical Professionalism

The concept of Ethical Professionalism started in 2008, perhaps earlier. Unsurprisingly it isn’t the first time efforts have been made to protect the UK public from the City, greed, bad decisions, bonuses for poor performance and the like.

Such excesses are trotted out in the press and TV with monotonous regularity, for example:

ping: … you don’t deserve your fat bonuses for failure!

pong: if we don’t pay ’em, the (possibly unethical) talent will leave

ping: who needs ’em?

pong: we do – Finance and Banking is incredibly important to the UK Economy

ping: Finance and Banking is still unethical and opportunistic

pong: that’s a bit harsh, we’re changing

ping: you guys brought the house down, and we’re still paying

pong: we admitted we need better self and management control and oversight

ping: so what have you done about it?

pong: implemented Ethical Professionalism

ping: ***!!!??. you’re taking your time

pong: these things take time

ping: citizens are watching you

Yeah, yeah, y…e…a…h

Just how well did the laudable concept of Ethical Professionalism make the progression from policies, procedural manuals and training courses into a way of life? Is it embedded and evident in the hearts and minds of everyone in the Financial Sector?

It was a big promise, a significant Change project which could have provided significant thought leadership to support a lasting economic recovery for the UK. Rather inconveniently, some may say Brexit was sold to UK voters to ensure the continued and untraceable off-shoring of funds, allowing industrial-scale tax avoidance and money laundering to continue. If this is true, it demonstrates a heartbreaking, cynical-and-corrupt reality. It seems the financial community and its Ethical Professionalism hasn’t yet happened.

What might have (has) gone wrong?

A million keyboards start to click … With the public statements of so many big names, I hope it’s a case of what might yet go right. After all, we are only eleven years down the road. Fifteen if you go back to the crash. Or was it simply waffle and spin? Perhaps they never really understood the reality of cultural change and the task they chose. They weren’t committed to their espoused new order. If they had been, things would have changed, and we’d have noticed.

Have you come across this old saying?

Doctors who treat themselves have fools for patients.

Perhaps the same applies to Bankers.

My personal experience of conniving in high places started me writing thrillers.

© Mac Logan



I’m Mac Logan, author of the Angels’ Share series. Thanks for visiting. I write thrillers, ancient Celtic fantasy, poetry, business and organisations. Crime fiction provides a means of pursuing nasty people with satisfying, imaginative robustness. My thrillers offer a sense of recourse against corrupt people and cadres who screw us and steal our money. Even though such people hurt me in the past, I wish them no harm. In fact, I’m grateful to such deceivers for providing the basis of The Angels’ Share series. 

I love family, cooking, good company, banter, sport, fun, and an occasional drop of ‘The Cratur’. I live in the beautiful East Neuk of Fife, Scotland.

 Writing is part of me. My efforts started in childhood. It took me many years to admit I’m a poet. Maybe it’s a man thing? Many articles on business organisational matters and a couple of single-topic business books. Oh dear, I’m approaching 200 blogs – can I be that old?

 Tired of the dry stuff, I changed direction a few decades back as my muse hauled me into writing: thrillers, poetry, business and Celtic tales.

 Feedback is welcome. Your views on any aspect of my work are important to me. Please contact me.

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