Bankers place ethics at heart of sector reforms, confidence-building

Ethical conduct and professionalism of key stakeholders will play a pivotal role in either advancing or hindering efforts to restore long-term confidence in the financial sector efforts, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Chartered Institute of Bankers (CIB), Robert Dzato, has asserted.

The financial sector is currently going through a destiny-defining period in light of recent developments, including the Domestic Debt Exchange Programme (DDEP), and in his estimation bankers as central figures in the private sphere of the sector are set to face heightened scrutiny – considering the sheer size and influence of the banking industry. As such, the emphasis placed on it will reflect a broader industry-wide commitment to ethical behaviour and adherence to the highest professional standards, a sentiment echoed by industry leaders and regulators alike.

“When we look at recent events and the imperative to restore faith in the financial sector, the renewed focus on ethics and professionalism among bankers is perhaps the most crucial step forward,” he said to the B&FT.

To this end, the Institute, he noted, will allocate significant resources in the medium-term to focus on this critical aspect. He further announced that this year’s annual conference, which coincides with its 60th anniversary, will be known as the National Banking Ethics Conference, centred round the theme ‘Redefining professionalism in banking through ethics’.

The call for greater emphasis on ethics and professionalism in the banking sector comes after a significant milestone achieved in November 2020. At that time, the industry took a substantial step toward upholding ethical and professional standards with the Ghana Banking Code of Ethics and Business Conduct launch. This landmark initiative was spearheaded by the CIB in collaboration with the Bank of Ghana and Ghana Association of Bankers.

The code’s primary objective is to provide comprehensive guidance and regulation for the conduct of professionals within the banking sector. The code encompasses four fundamental areas: which are professional conduct for members; the relationship between financial institutions and their customers; inter-bank interactions; and financial institutions’ obligations to regulatory authorities.

Key principles embedded within the code include maintaining high-quality banking services, strict compliance with laws and regulations, prevention of conflicts of interest, and fostering transparency and trust within the industry. It also outlines the rights and responsibilities of members, with a strong emphasis on confidentiality, accountability and adherence to evolving industry standards.

Despite falling by 32.37 percent between 2021 and 2022, staff involvement in financial fraud cases stood at 188 last year – and remains a source of concern as GH¢56million was lost, according to data from the central bank.

“Most of the incidents recorded involving staff had to do with cash theft (cash suppression) from customers’ accounts, and happened to be a very common fraud typology in the Rural and Community banking sector,” the BoG noted in the 2022 Banks, SDIs and PSPs Fraud Report.

Furthermore, while analysts have praised key institutions for implementing measures aimed at preventing the country from violating global Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing (AML-CTF) standards, it has been noted that elevated ethical standards are essential to keep the nation off the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) watch list.

The CIB Chief Executive added that it will not suffice for the Institute to design and launch the code without placing adequate emphasis on implementation.

“Successful enforcement of the Ghana Banking Code of Ethics and Business Conduct hinges on the collective commitment of industry professionals to uphold its principles and standards,” he said, while hinting that the level of related institutions’ adherence will be published in the near future.

Taking an even longer-term approach to the subject of ethics and professionalism, the CIB is poised to launch an extensive financial literacy programme tailored for secondary schools. This initiative, Mr. Dzato explained, will leverage the extensive network of CIB members across the country.

“Our unwavering commitment to local communities is strengthened by our members’ deep connections and understanding of each region’s unique needs. The Financial Literacy programme’s long-term goal is sustainability, recognising that community success hinges on financial health. By instilling financial literacy from a young age, we aim to create a more resilient and prosperous society,” he said.

He concluded that: “CIB sees this as equipping the younger generation with essential financial knowledge and skills for a responsible financial future as bankers, finance professionals and customers”.