Today, my principal, one of the largest banks in The Netherlands, had a slightly surprising message for me.
On 18 September 2014, the Second Chamber of Dutch Parliament has decided that I, as an employee – albeit it a temporary one – of a Dutch bank, have to make the banker’s oath. This will be effectuated in the beginning of 2015, for all employees of all Dutch banks. Translated, the oath contains the following promises:
I swear / promise that, within the boundaries of my function, which I fulfil at any moment in the banking industry:
- That I will practice my function with integrity and scrupulousness;
- That I will choose a cautious balance between the interests of all stakeholders, which are involved in the company:
- The society in which the company operates;
- That I will put the interest of the customer in centre of this deliberation;
- That I will behave in accordance of the laws, the regulations and the codes of conduct, which are applicable to me:
- That I will keep a secret the knowledge that I’m entrusted with;
- That I will not abuse my knowledge;
- That I will behave myself open and assessable and will be aware of my responsibility against society;
- That I will make efforts to maintain and spur the trust in the financial industry
This is an official oath and consequently, it brings one ‘under oath’ for the rest of one’s career in the banking industry! Or doesn’t it?!
Probably – as I am a consultant with only temporary assignments – I have to make the same oath over and over again, every time when I return to the banking industry for a new assignment at the ICT department of a Dutch bank.
This – as a matter of fact – makes the value of this very oath “null and void”.
And a big question is: when I’m ‘under oath’ through this oath, I am under oath of what?!
I neither want to speak about the blatantly religious and grandiloquent texts of this oath, nor about the fact that some texts are slightly contradictory:
- “Keeping a secret the knowledge that I’m entrusted with”, versus “Behaving open and assessable”;
- “Choosing a cautious balance between the interests of all stakeholders”, versus “putting the customer in centre of this deliberation”;
My problem with this oath is much more structural and fundamental in nature:
- Which problem is exactly solved with this oath?
- Against which kind of behaviour of bank employees this oath will help, while not having it would leave the problematic behaviour intact?
- Why would this oath help already honest people to remain honest, while at the same time putting people, with a slight tendency to dishonesty and undignified behaviour, on the right track again?!
- Why would this oath help to put the customer back in centre again, when this is such an easy sounding, but very hard thing to do?
- And why would this oath help to make banks more accessible and approachable for their customers, when their whole operation is aimed – under pressure of the fierce competition from inside and outside the banking industry - in the direction of:
- more efficiency;
- a more computerized, robotized and virtualized handling of all transactions;
- much lower expenses;
- much less personnel;
- much less handling of physical money and, consequently, less Automated Teller Machines (ATM’s) and less brick-and-mortar bank offices?!
And of course the Million Dollar Question-of-Conscience is:
What is this oath more than a sop for Dutch and European politicians and a blatant example of symbol politics, without any tangible value for the banking industry itself or for society?
This oath will not do anything to restore the confidence of the Dutch and European citizens in the banking industry and it will not do anything to restore the trust of European politicians in the banking industry?!
The only thing that the banking industry can do to restore trust in the future is being simply honest (!) and straightforward for many, many years, while giving real value and service to their customers. Many banks already do so these days and some banks have never stopped doing so; even in the prelude to 2008.
Then – at one beautiful day – the banking industry will have earned back the confidence that they enjoyed and also thorougly deserved during many years in the past.
And politicians and central bankers themselves could help this process enormously, by not chosing for the easy solutions every time: solutions which help their wealthy grassroots getting more rich, but ruin the middle classes of their societies in the process.
No, they should make the hard decisions, like “raising the interest rates”, in spite of the large investors, stock traders and massive borrowers of ‘virtually free money’.
And they should finally make a real start with deploying the legal framework, which is needed to enable the ‘list of things-to-do’ that every economist with half-a-brain can sum up for you.
And what about the oath…? I will make it!
First, because I have to, to keep my job.
And second, because I endorse most paragraphs in this oath by heart…