The establishment and maintenance of an ethical culture is important for any Organization. It is particularly so, for a Bank where maintaining and fostering public trust and confidence is of critical importance. In establishing and maintaining an ethical culture in the Bank, the examples set by the Members of our Board of Directors, the Corporate Management, Executives and Senior Staff would exert a powerful influence on all employees.
Money is the basic commodity revolving around the business of Banking. In dealing with money temptations abound. Hence, adopting the highest ethical standards to fight off the lure of additional wealth, temptations and conflicts of interests arising from maintaining close customer relationships, to face industry challenges resulting from globalization, innovations and diversifications, is of critical importance to the progress of the Bank. Striving to achieve targets under intense competition also puts Bank Officers under pressure which could lead to malpractices and illegalities.
It is critical to maintain high ethical standards in decision making at the higher levels of management. It should be ensured that all necessary safeguards are in place to avoid situations of impairment of decisions due to various circumstances such as relationships, friendships, inducements, gratifications or conflicting interests.
While it is important for all employees to use their personal and business relationships to canvass business opportunities and to obtain advantages in negotiating business deals or transactions for the Bank, they should avoid situations that may lead to impairment of business decisions and create conflicts of interest by declaring their connections, relationships and other underlying circumstances to their Superior Officers where appropriate.
(2) Importance of business ethics
Business ethics is defined as “the process of evaluating decisions, with respect to the moral standards of society”. Core ethical values include honesty, integrity, fairness, responsible citizenship and accountability. Putting it differently, business ethics means “choosing the good over the bad, the right over the wrong, the fair over the unfair and the truth over the untruth”.
Observing high ethical standards goes beyond observing the law which is a basic professional requirement. The Bank must also pay close attention to moral concerns in order to make the right ethical decisions on a day-to-day basis. Upholding of an ethical culture in banking is of critical importance to regulators, the Bank, employees and customers alike. It brings about a wide range of benefits.
- Ethical banking practices help safeguard depositors’ interests, maintain the stability of the system and preserve the reputation of the Bank.
- The adherence of the highest ethical standards by the staff of the Bank can prevent breaches of the law and the corrupt practices. This will, in turn, protect stakeholders’ interests and enhance the Bank’s competitiveness and brand image.
- The cultivation of strong moral values amongst employees can empower them to come up with suitable solutions when facing ethical dilemmas. Ethical business practices are essential ingredients of professionalism. It is also the prerequisite for effective staff management. A bank officer should therefore make every effort to ensure that his staff conduct their business in accordance with extremely high ethical standards.
- Customers’ interests will be better protected through trustworthy and ethical banking practices. Hence, only persons of integrity should be entrusted with this responsibility. If not, public confidence would quickly be eroded and the very stability of the banking system as a whole, would be undermined.
(3) Risks involved
Corruption facilitates and protects crimes in Banks. Most of the corruption related offences involve staff who solicit or accept gratifications as rewards for taking or refraining from taking, a particular action.
Following are a few of the common offences involving gratifications :
- Approving substandard/unqualified/ineligible applications for credit facilities, falsifying supporting information, granting unjustifiable terms and unnecessarily expediting the process of loan requests.
- Accepting false documents, inflated valuations, not complying with title examination requirements and releasing or substituting securities without necessary approval.
- Knowingly considering credit applications involving bogus business transactions.
- Disclosing confidential information to unauthorized persons/sources..
- Participating in money laundering or conspiring to hide suspicious transactions from law enforcement authorities.
- Unfair allocation of jobs for contractors or suppliers, showing favors in placing orders, making excessive purchases and disclosing confidential information on tenders.
There will of course be numerous other job related offences that we need to refrain from.
(4) Banks code of ethics
The Code spells out the expected standards of behavior and sets the operating principles to be followed.
It is necessary to ensure that the standards of behavior expected of Management and employees are followed in its letter and spirit. Every Officer should ensure that the Bank at all times maintains high ethical standards and adequate internal control measures are in place guarding against unethical practices and irregularities.
To make the Code effective, it would be necessary :
- To apply core-values and principles embodied consistently.
- For Management to display the fullest support to the Code and serve as role models for compliance.
- To ensure that all personnel strictly comply with the Code.
- That fair rewarding and punishment will be effected under a transparent system.
- To communicate the contents to all employees and even make the Code available to those outside the Bank.
- To review and revise regularly.
1. Expected standards of behavior – Ethical issues - Do’ s and Don’t s
- Where interests conflict with that of the Bank or its customers, a disclosure to be made and Superior Officer’s advice to be sought.
- No loans should be approved by any staff for immediate family members or relatives or to Companies in which they have personal interests.
- Staff should not receive credit from third parties on abnormally favoured basis.
- Staff should not offer bribes or other illegal gratifications to obtain business or other favors.
- Staff should not solicit or accept bribes or other illegal gratifications from outside parties to consider, expedite or afford unjustifiable favours in business transactions.
- Supervisory and Managerial staff should not influence or pressurise subordinate staff in decision making.
- Staff should not make decisions on the influence or pressure, of superiors or outsiders. If such an influence or pressure is made, the name of the party influencing/pressurizing should be indicated in the relevant paper.
- If, for furthering Banks business interest, offering of a reward is necessitated, staff should ensure that it does not breach the law and is offered with the necessary approval.
- Staff should not solicit personal favors or benefits using official position.
- Staff should not divulge customer information to third parties except in accordance with the law. Employees whose spouses and dependents are employed at competitor Banks should exercise greater care about wittingly or unwittingly disclosing confidential and sensitive information about one’s Bank and its customers.
- Sharing of confidential or proprietary information within the Bank should only be for legitimate business purposes.
- Staff should not deal in shares or other securities based on sensitive information possessed as a result of employment.
- Staff should not take up any outside employment.
- Staff should not compromise decision making in lending and other business contracts of the Bank due to influence of gratifications, friendships, relationships or other circumstances.
A friendship/relationship for the purpose of this Code is defined as an acquaintance or a relationship between parties to a contract or transaction as a result of which, normally expected standards of assessment would be reduced and/or precautions and safeguards normally taken are overlooked and/or services and courtesies normally not extended are permitted and/or conditions, restrictions and qualifications generally imposed are relaxed.
- Staff should not place themselves in a position of obligation, by accepting special favors, extravagant/high value gifts, offers for staff picnics or overseas travel, frequent excessive entertainment and favors offered for their immediate family members and other favors or considerations, from persons with whom they have business dealings.
2. Identification of malpractices and follow up action
- Senior staff should be vigilant for any malpractices of their subordinates. Special attention should be paid to subordinates’ behavior as well as other symptoms of malpractices in areas of work.
- Some of the behavioral symptoms requiring attention would be :
- Reluctance to accept transfers, promotions, change of duties or working hours or non availing of Annual Leave and non delegation of work.
- Unusual relationships with subordinates, clients or clients’ staff or sudden changes in life styles and behavioral patterns, incommensurate with income and assets.
- Presentation of documents for authorization in large, unrelated batches at busy times or at times during which authorization power has been delegated to others.
- Symptoms of possible malpractices involving staff and third parties in the areas of lending, trade transactions, account operations etc. need to be detected and reported.
- A Manager should know his staff and the customers well and should be vigilant to identify and detect such warning signals.
3. Reporting malpractices
- One of the benefits of abiding with a “Code of Ethics” is the timely detection and reporting of malpractices.
- While all Senior Staff are essentially required to diligently involve in the detection/reporting of malpractices, it is necessary to reiterate the importance of “Whistle Blowing”.
- All employees at every level should be encouraged to report malpractices observed to their Heads of Department/Senior Management or the Compliance Officer. In such circumstances, total confidentiality pertaining to the reporters anonymity and protection from any harassment should be assured.
- The Compliance Officer, when malpractices are reported to him, should draw the attention to the issues at the appropriate levels of authority and if required, take up the issues with the Managing Director and/or Chairman of the Bank.
- All employees should be prepared to “Blow the Whistle”, if and when they come across any unethical activities which they are powerless to stop.
- Where unable to stop others from doing the wrong thing, staff must have the courage to “blow the whistle” by bringing them to the notice of higher authorities in the Bank.
- Upholding ethical behavior should be a part of the Bank’s culture, where staff members would not hesitate to “blow the whistle” when an unethical act is observed, even though such act is strictly within the law.
- After reporting malpractices to the Department Heads/Senior Management or the Compliance Officer, if adequate action is not taken, the employees are further encouraged to refer the issues to the Managing Director and/or Chairman of the Bank, if necessary.
Therefore, while it is important to avoid making frivolous allegations, staff should report malpractices observed even if the evidence cannot be fully substantiated. They should also check and follow the Bank’s procedure in making a complaint and confine the complaint only to those who need to deal with it.
It is necessary for the staff to understand that they would become a party to it if they do not report a malpractice upon detection.
Complaints when received should be dealt with quickly and follow up action taken as necessary, through disciplinary procedures or through law enforcement agencies as applicable.
Where there are doubts to be cleared, the employees are encouraged to consult either the Heads of the Department, Senior Officers or the Compliance Officer.