To the young people of banking and finance: Please seize the opportunity and break the shackles of conformity


Dr Simon Longstaff

To my mind, Kenneth Hayne was to the banking and finance industry what a building surveyor is to a rickety house. He ripped off the gleaming cladding to reveal cracked foundations, some rotten beams and a few broken tiles that let in the rain.

But he did more. He also afforded us a glimpse of the occupants of the house – the industry’s customers. Most turned out to be fine. However, a few were shown to have suffered real detriment – and they are justifiably hurt and angry – as are the rest of us on their behalf.

The challenge now is to refurbish the structure – which is basically sound.

However, who is to do this work? Do we leave it to the people who failed to notice or ignored the signs of disrepair? Perhaps not. For my part, I’m counting on a younger cohort to renovate the banking and finance industry – for it is they who have most to gain.

If I was one of these young people, then I would be really annoyed that an older generation had allowed my aspirations to be tainted. I would want to mount a ‘guerilla’ campaign to reclaim my industry’s noble purpose; to champion its ideals. I would not target the top. Instead, I would focus on recruiting my peers; I would enrol them in a campaign of change from the bottom. I would use social media. I would stand outside the doors of each head office and sign people up. I would organise meetings in pubs, clubs, wherever … I would mobilise a new generation of people working in banking and finance and drive the change that the current crop of leaders either cannot or will not lead.

So, what would be my manifesto for change?

I would look to The Banking and Finance Oath (The BFO). This is not because I had a hand in its formation. It’s because the tenets speak to an underlying truth; the banking and finance industry is not merely necessary. It as a capacity to do good.

In my experience, today’s younger people are every bit as idealistic as their forebears. Indeed, their natural affinity for ethics is stronger than that of the generations they will supplant. However, they are also limited in their belief that they can make a difference beyond the boundaries of their immediate influence.

What banking and finance needs are hopeful, pragmatic idealists willing to champion and apply the precepts embedded in The BFO. This is a practical task requiring a level of inspiration, energy and commitment that is beyond the reach of those currently running the show. Today’s leadership sincerely embraces the idea of a solid ethical foundation for banking and finance; they just don’t want to (or perhaps can’t) bring the ideas to life at the scale required. To wait for them to get their act together would be to wait forever.

On the other hand, the emerging generation of leaders has everything to gain from seizing the opportunity presented by The BFO. Nobody wants to feel ashamed of their work. People wish to be proud. Nobody wants to do meaningless work. People want to serve a decent purpose.

The world of banking and finance is about to be turned on its head; disrupted to its core due to technological innovation. However, a place will remain for those who understand the human dimension of banking and finance – the essential need for trust, a concern for the wellbeing of those served; and so on.

Great bankers and financiers have always understood money, debt, credit, etc. However, great bankers and financiers have always been concerned about much more. Thus, we speak of the great banking houses of yesteryear. What of the banking houses of today? How do they stand? What of those of tomorrow.

Young people have the opportunity to lay the foundations for the banking and finance industry of the future. To you I say this: please seize the opportunity and break the shackles of conformity. Take on the complacent, rattle a few cages, embarrass a few ‘worthies’ and in doing so, actively shape your fate rather than meekly accepting the legacy of Hayne. And while your at it – have some fun.

By Dr Simon Longstaff AO, Executive Director of The Ethics Centre


You can hear Simon speak at The BFO Crossroads Conference on Thursday 8 August 2019 at Westpac, Barangaroo, Sydney. The Program, full list of speakers and tickets are available here.

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