How would an assembly of previous generations of royalty perceive a debate between a gathering of bankers, academics, regulatory practitioners and advisors, and representatives of civil society on the nature and practicality of ethics in business?
By Anthony Smith-Meyer, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Business Compliance
The setting was worthy of the topic. Surrounded by portraits of the Kings of Belgium, the CSR Europe Workshop on Best Practice Ethics Management in the Financial sector – Integrating Values within your Organisation - organised together with the European Academy of Business in Society and in partnership with Business & Society Belgium - was hosted by BNP Paribas Fortis in their Hall of Kings at 20 Rue Royale in Brussels.
It was an event billed to explore the meaning, purpose and impact of ethics management and its relationship to the values driven agenda of sustainability, as applied to the financial sector in particular. The gathering set about a review of questions such as:
- Failures of compliance systems: What is the problem?
- What are the solutions: Company practices and trends in ethical management.
- How to improve management control and implement values?
A Gathering of Knights
One might wonder how the assembly of previous generations of royalty would have perceived this debate between a gathering of bankers, academics, regulatory practitioners and advisors, and representatives of civil society on the nature and practicality of ethics in business. Would they have been struck by how, after all these years and generations of debate, the nature of ethics, its relationship to business conduct and the social good, continues to fascinate, develop and shift over time without any manifest, definitive formula for success.
Against the backdrop of cries for more regulation and governance, the participants reflected on the sobering thought that the financial industry had governance aplenty during the years leading up to the crisis.
Their conclusion: It is the human factor, which is the differentiating factor.
What’s needed: promoting a different approach to business and the manner in which decisions are made. The projection of authentic corporate values, mirrored or led by a sustainability agenda, aimed at a greater engagement of employees and increased levels of trust between the firm and its customers; was this not the way forward?
Ethics Management: A Mouthful
The workshop gamely discussed the proposition and set out a picture of “ethics management” in industry and commerce that can only be described as “work-in-progress.” KPMG presented its conclusions of a CSR Europe commissioned study of ethics management within the financial industry, confirming with only very few exceptions, a relatively low degree of maturity of conscious ethical management initiatives within the majority of firms included in their research.
Workship attendees were quick to conclude that the development of an ethics management approach requires an understanding of, and focus on, the positive drivers of integrity, going beyond current attempts to place obstacles in the way of misconduct through endless additional regulation.
Several catchwords were thrown about including the promotion of integrity, transparency, accountability, clarity of roles, and stewardship, as KPMG toured the range of varied contributors to the debate. With an expanded pool of stakeholders today for any business, these words reflected a broad segment of contributors including the public policy-making and regulatory worlds, shareholders, industry groups, shareholders and civil society.
After KPMG took us through their research, Dutch financial sector supervisor DnB made a commendable presentation of their expectations and methodology when evaluating firms on their culture of ethics; all information being readily available from their website. Their leadership in regulatory transparency was applauded by participants and led to a lively discussion of:
- The importance of employee freedom to speak up in organisations.
- Active promotion of organisational justice within the firm.
- The establishment of ethical expectations within the firm through encouraged behaviours and visible sanction.
- The merits of rules- or value-based initiatives; or indeed a mixture of the two.
While the workshop debate was rich in content and provided the beginnings for useful road maps to the identification of what an Ethics Management Programme might look like, and how it might contribute to the ethical organisation, not all financial institutions were present to take an active interest in this topic.
Dare we host a future workshop to address “How to Influence the Decision Takers”?
About the Author:
Anthony Smith-Meyer has recently left mainstream banking to establish a career as a specialist within Governance and Compliance matters. He is Editor-in-Chief of a new Journal of Business Compliance together with Baltzer Science Publishers launched in October 2012, and is an Adjunct Professor and lecturer of International Business and Management at the European Campus of the University of Miami, Ohio.
Recently a member of the Group Executive Committee of Compliance and Control at BNP Paribas, Anthony has been extensively involved with Compliance matters since 2003, when he established the Compliance Department for Merchant Banking at Fortis Bank, and assumed responsibility for their Group Compliance function in October 2008.