Phil Beckett, managing director at Proven Legal Technologies – the corporate forensic investigation and e-disclosure expert, considers the idea of bankers swearing an oath to raise accountability and standards in the industry after recent scandals:
It was suggested last week by Think-tank ResPublica that bankers should swear an oath to raise accountability and standards in the industry. The call for stronger ethics in banking comes after a series of scandals such as the mis-selling of payment protection insurance, Libor rate rigging, and the mis-selling of interest swaps to small businesses. ResPublica claimed that rather than solely focusing on rules or macro-economic issues, regulators need to consider the personal conduct of bankers.
Of course such an oath does have some merit. As The Independent’s Julian Knight commented, where it could work is in the marketing departments, boards and trading floors of the banks. It is in these jobs that decisions are made where it is easier to tell right from wrong. It is these people, after all, who have rigged Libor, let their employers make overly risky investments, designed products that confuse and mislead, and then browbeaten the counter staff and call centres into selling them on.
However, despite showing some merit, the oath does miss the point slightly. Simply signing a document or declaring an oath would not stop the majority of fraud or regulatory cases that we have seen over the last 10 years from occurring. From our experience working on these types of large scale cases, in the heat of the moment, people do not tend to think about the historic things they said or did, especially when the pressure is on. In fact the people committing these offenses do not necessarily believe they are doing anything wrong in the first instance, therefore would not consider that they are breaking an oath at all, whoever made them take it.
Ultimately prevention is always better than cure. Regular, robust and intelligent analysis of company data – such as chat messages and emails– can provide better early warning signs of these issues far more than any oath could.