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A new pathway to professionalism

by Matthew Smith | 01 Jun 2017

This week FINSIA, the Financial Services Institute of Australasia, unveiled a new strategy – including key partnerships it has recently forged – that will play a crucial role in deepening trust in financial services by raising standards of professionalism.

The new model for professionalism will follow similar professional bodies that have already been established – most notably in Europe, Asia, and Africa – and FINSIA announced its new partnership with Chartered Banker Institute (CBI) earlier this week as part of its strategic plan to restore pride and trust in the financial services community.

The freshly-inked agreement with CBI, which has had a quarter of a million members in 33 countries complete the foundation level, will bring globally recognized professional certifications to Australia and New Zealand that will support industry professions at all levels – from the foundational level, right through to the Chartered Banker certification, suitable for senior executives.  

The new certifications will become the mark of professionalism for individuals within the banking segment, with a view to it then being extended to other areas, including the securities segment, in the near future.

On the heels of a Parliamentary Inquiry into competition among the big four banks, and in the shadow of a string of investigations which continue to erode the community’s trust in the segment, FINSIA’s planned Professional Banking Council and Chartered Bankers Program will aim to develop standards to raise professionalism, starting with individuals through accreditation.

Lifting Standards of Competency and Conduct

“My perspective is 20 or 30 years ago the bank manager was regarded as a professional with the same level of trust we have for a doctor or perhaps an accountant, but through deregulation, through centralisation, through productisation, we have lost that along the way,” FINSIA’s CEO Chris Whitehead says in conversation with InFinance.

Whitehead unveiled his plans for FINSIA’s new direction at his first annual general meeting as CEO on Wednesday. Whitehead was appointed to the position last August; previously he was CEO for member-owned credit union, CUA, and a regional director at the Bank of Scotland in the UK.

FINSIA’s new business strategy is one of the largest changes to the organization since it’s  forming in 2005 as a result of the merger of the Australian Institute of Banking and Finance and the Securities Institute of Australia. Whitehead highlights that FINSIA’s lack of conflicts of interest and strong brand identity amongst professionals position it perfectly to be the peak standards and certification body.

“We are now in a situation that if it wasn’t FINSIA, another professional body would have to be formed to take on this role,” Whitehead says, acknowledging the strong political will for individuals within the banking and securities industry to have a certain level of accountability.

“We recognise the current challenges facing financial services and the appetite for change and the need for a professional body like FINSIA to help restore pride and trust in the financial services community in which we operate in,” Whitehead says.

Chartered Banker Professional Qualification

FINSIA is introducing Chartered Banker professional qualification into Australia and New Zealand.  There are a range of entry points into the program, commencing at the foundation level course, which is an ideal introduction to the banking sector for those who are new or working in related support areas such as HR, IT or marketing.  The Chartered Banker course is aimed at providing an extensive, detailed and critical knowledge and understanding of the banking sector. This programme develops skills and abilities to make professional judgement and informed decisions in relevant work situations.  

“At the time selling the education business changed the business from what it was, but now it’s an advantage for us because we are not competing with other education providers, we are purely focused on the accreditation and professionalisation,” Whitehead says.

FINSIA will work within the education ecosystem to accredit their courses and within financial institutions and other membership bodies to accredit programs and members with Chartered Banker qualifications, Whitehead explains.

“Our ongoing role at FINSIA will be as a connector, working with the industry, regulators, education providers and other key stakeholders to provide the right certifications and raise standards of competency and conduct.”

The Australian Bankers’ Association strongly supports the continual improvement of professional standards in the banking and financial services industry and will work with FINSIA in helping to drive professionalisation.

“Frankly, it’s why I joined FINSIA, because it struck me immediately here there was no one taking on the professionalism piece, while in the UK the focus was all raising the standards of professionalism focusing on improved levels of individual conduct and competency,” Whitehead says.

Whitehead added, “FINSIA also recognises the importance of ethics and integrity as part of its professionalisation strategy.  FINSIA has become a committed partner of The Banking and Finance Oath (BFO) supporting its role in nurturing a strong ethical foundation. In addition, FINSIA is working with Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI) to broaden its strategy across its strategy across the industry.

The similarities between the regulatory environment in the UK and movements towards professionalism here was highlighted during a recent FINSIA Industry Council discussion and covered here by InFinance

The requirement for professionals in banking both at the senior executive and at the board level will only increase in Australia as it has in other countries, a topic discussed further in this issue of InFinance.

Whitehead highlights that in Malaysia every banking executive is required to have a specific banking qualification as well as at least one person on the boards of banking institutions.

The new FINSIA/CBI certifications are designed to provide both vertical and horizontal as well as geographical mobility to professionals who earn them at every level, from the Professional Banker to Chartered Banker level.

“Particularly in this era of technological disruption and globalisation, it’s important for professionals to move across industries, from funds management, to wealth management and into banking, and for employers to be able to measure their competency and level of knowledge,” Whitehead says.

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