OPINION | I became a signatory to the Banking and Finance Oath a number of years ago. For me personally, it was important to state publicly that I choose to live by and uphold these principles in everything I do. I believe in the principles of the oath and I wanted to be a strong advocate for the standards our profession should live by, as an example to colleagues within the industry and to people who work in our organisation.

The industry is the sum of all of us. While we compete on many dimensions, if the industry loses its reputation, then we all suffer.

For me, the oath means taking personal responsibility to call out wrongdoing if I see it and support others when they do the same. It’s not just the responsibility of regulators to set standards and ensure we live by them – it’s everyone’s responsibility. A big part of that is calling out practices that don’t meet our standards.

 Taking the oath has changed the way I think about how all of us as industry participants need to act collectively. In the past, you could focus solely on differentiating your own business, products and services. Today, we are all judged on the actions of our peers and that comes with a heightened expectation across the industry to call out bad behaviour wherever it’s seen.

When we work together to rebuild trust, whether it be through industry reference-checking measures or agreeing on common definitions, as just two examples, it sends a clear signal to all players about what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour and helps consumers make better choices.

All Westpac Group executive team members have taken the oath and it has received strong support across the BT leadership team. For me though, it is not necessarily about saying to people, ‘You must take the oath’. It is about recognising that people watch you closely, and they probably watch you more than they listen to you. How you behave, how you respond to things and how you make decisions sets the standard for your employees.

It is your behaviour that sets the tone – not necessarily the messages you may send out by email or talk about in meetings. Anyone in a responsible position needs to think deeply about their behaviour and the impact it has on others in the organisation. If the oath helps guide those behaviours, then that is more impactful than just telling people they should take it.

There is a big and important difference between being a part of an organisation with a stated set of values and making a personal commitment to ethics. As an individual, you can choose to buy into an organisational set of values or not. But when they are your personal values, you are saying that is what accords with me – regardless of any environment I may be in. Personal values and commitment are extremely powerful in changing culture.

Brad Cooper is chief executive of the BT Financial Group, which is the wealth-management arm of Westpac Banking Corporation. He will participate in a panel titled “Has Regulation Become Self-defeating” at the Banking and Finance Ethics Conference in Sydney on June 8, 2017. To take the Banking and Finance Oath CLICK HERE.

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