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COVID-19 proves professionalism is the right way for financial services

by Chris Whitehead, CHARTERED BANKER F FIN | 15 May 2020
As we face the enormous impact COVID-19 will have on the economy, it is clear  financial services is playing a vital role.

And I am convinced more than ever that it is an opportunity to restore customer trust by adopting professionalism across the whole of the financial services sector.

We’ve already seen the industry make huge changes to the way it works to deal with the fallout from the virus as well as the way customers are being treated.

Tens of thousands of financial services employees are working from home, handling millions of calls from customers, dealing with their worries and concerns. 

That industry reacted so quickly to introduce mortgage holidays, extended loans, early superannuation drawdowns for vulnerable customers which suggested the industry was starting to redeem itself after revelations from too many scandals over recent years.

We must ensure this just isn’t a false start. More needs to be done and we don’t shouldn’t lose the impetus and willingness to do the right thing by customers.

I believe this is an opportunity to do better for our customers by doing better for our staff.

What is needed is a principles-based approach rather a tick-box rules approach and cutting out the bureaucracy. Giving financial services sector employees the tools through training and technology together with the skills and attitude to act in an ethical, responsible manner is what will pay dividends for everyone. 

Moreover, looking at the raft of legislation and regulation  that was being prepared for 2020 in response to the Royal Commission, I’m sure these plans need careful review – so much has changed over the past few months

We are seeing the government spending billions of dollars keeping the economy going, so we don’t want the recovery tied up in all sorts of bureaucracy. 

Given how important it is to drive the economy, we don’t want to see businesses stopped from re-opening or slow down individual’s financial recovery because of reams of red tape.

I’m sure there would be arguments that we cannot wipe the slate clean and ignore the findings of the Royal Commission. That would be letting the industry off. But circumstances have changed and we clearly need to take that into account the best way forward as we emerge from the health crisis.

What I think we need is movement from both sides, recognising the real need to have a commitment to professionalisation.

There is a genuine alternative opportunity here that would achieve the kind of productivity to kick start the economy.

I’ve already been talking with other financial services membership organisations about a coalition of stakeholders that would give industry the opportunity to point to us and say: Here’s the difference. Here’s the group purely focused on professionalism that will independently hold individuals accountable for their conduct and competency.

We could be the circuit breaker needed from both sides. 

We are here for everyone and need broad participation from the industry for this to work. 

We need a real commitment from the industry to validate and convince the community that they can increase trust without having a heavy laden legislative approach, rather embed a more principle-based approach to achieve what is best for their customers.

I firmly believe we could be the catalyst to finally achieving what we have set out to do. Restore trust in the industry and pride for the financial services community.

I don’t apologise for promoting our education and professional qualifications . We are a Not For Profit and believe ensuring the highest possible standards of professionalism will deliver the best customer outcomes. However we are equally keen to work with other providers of education and firms internal programs to help the sector meet agreed common standards.

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