07.12.2022 Business Features

Upholding Integrity-Code of Conduct and Ethics in Banking

By Carl Odame-Gyenti, PhD
Upholding Integrity-Code of Conduct and Ethics in Banking
07.12.2022 LISTEN

I began my noble banking career with an Asia, Africa and Middle East led international Bank in Ghana in the late 2000s right from the University of Ghana, Legon. Even at that time, I recall the robust training called ‘Right Start’ we had to go through for weeks before we were officially inducted into mainstream banking. For me, those intense training programmes- both local and international were very good because it offered me and my colleagues the opportunity to understand the basics of the banking profession. The foundation stage was crucial in ensuring we conducted ourselves professionally.

Fast forward, the institution made sure that, while on the job, new e-learning programmes were done before given deadlines and failure to comply and complete such e-learning programmes could impact an employee’s performance appraisals. Before I took over certain roles in the institution, I was required to obtain certain certifications such as Credit Skills Assessment (CSA), Financial Institutions Credit Curriculum (FICC), ACI Financial Markets Association (ACI) etc. I took my personal development into my own hands to build capacity and benchmark strength. The quality and standard I had to attain to handle Corporate and Institutional Banking Clients was non-negotiable to the Bank. With these levels of periodic trainings and coaching, it was obvious that, to whom much is given, a lot more was expected to exercise good judgement in all my dealings with customers.

Interestingly, a recent report issued by the Central Bank of Ghana noted that, staff of Banks and other Specialised Deposit-Taking Institutions’ involvement in fraud, constituted 53.46% of total fraud cases in 2021 and that this canker continues to increase year on year. In fact, I found it quite worrying and have been wondering the root cause of such unethical practice by some professionals in the banking industry. The Statistics indicated that staff involvement in fraud cases increased to 278, as compared to 253 in 2020, representing an increase of 9.88% in year-on-year terms. For 2021 alone, the Rural and Community Banks recorded the highest rate of staff involvement in fraud with a figure of 46.04%. The Universal banks accounted for 28.06%, while the Savings and Loans companies accounted for 16.55%.

The Bank of Ghana report further stated, the consistently high rate of staff involvement in fraud cases reported by Banks and Special Deposit Institutions (SDIs) may be due to lack of adequate control systems in the financial institutions (especially the Rural Banking sector), poor background investigations for prospective, newly appointed and temporal staff, poor remuneration in the Banking and SDI sectors, among others. Moreover, the persistent rate of increase in staff involvement in fraud recorded over the last three years shows that the banking sector, especially the Rural and Community Banking sector has not put in place enough effort into curbing the trend.

As if this is not enough, the Electronic Money Issuers (EMI) sector also reported a significant number of mobile money (MOMO) fraud incidents and loss values in 2021. EMIs recorded 12,350 MOMO related fraud incidents in 2021. The total value of fraud reported by EMIs for the 2021 amounted to GHS14.2 million. The total E-Money related loss recorded by EMIs in 2021 amounted to approximately GHS12.8million. The related incident of fraud comes from related transactions such as cheque fraud, impersonation, burglary, cyber/email fraud cases etc.

The above staggering numbers clearly indicates that, there is more to be done on prospective employees who aspire to pursue a career in Banking. For employees who are already in the financial sector, there is the need to commit to the code of conduct and embrace the basic ethics of banking to keep and restore trust in the financial sector. Though not exhaustive, in this article, I will discuss a few of these codes.

Generally speaking, understanding some of the codes of conduct are important and relevant in the Banking sector. It is central to the way a bank employee works and ensures that the right decisions are taken at all times. For banks, managing risk is the central part of their daily activities.

# 1 Act Responsibly and within Authority.
As an employee of a Financial Institution, it is your core responsibility to act in a way that shows that you have good judgment, the ability to act correctly and make decisions on your own. During the Banking sector crisis in 2018/19, reports revealed that some Company Directors and even employees acted irresponsibly and contributed to the collapse and revocation of the license of some of the Commercial Banks, Savings and Loans and Fund Managers.

It is therefore expected of a banker to be disciplined, responsible and accountable for the risks the banker takes. Risks taken must be within a banker’s delegated authority and be appropriate to the business area or activity of the banker. For example, do not approve cheques or transactions that are above your threshold. There is the need to act within the maker-checker authorisation at all times. Highlight red flags and ensure closure.

#2 Leverage on Speak up Channels
This is where most employees fall short. In a Speak-Up workplace culture, employees are willing and able to ask questions and raise concerns when they witness or experience misconduct. It is a banker’s responsibility to Speak Up when you see anything that you are not comfortable with at work. This could be poor behaviour, or a process or system that isn’t working well. To encourage and maintain this culture, management must encourage a working environment devoid of victimisation. Speaking up must be done with the confidence that reports are taken seriously without fear of persecution. The fear of persecution is the reason why the average Ghanaian would rather keep quiet and condone the rot in an organisation. Speak up today!

#3 Reject Bribery and Corrupt Practices.
Bribery occurs when a gift, reward or benefit is exchanged to influence behaviour. When someone takes improper advantage of their position to make a gain for themselves, they are acting corruptly. Bribery and corruption can cause job loss, prison term or revocation of license. In this era where there is scarcity of Jobs, you don’t want to lose what you have. It is important to note that, as banking professional, bribery is illegal, dishonest and damages your integrity. You must therefore not give or accept bribes nor take part in any form of corruption.

#4 Do not support Insider Trading activities

Financial Institutions sit on huge data and as an employee, you may be privileged to have access to sensitive information that may influence decision. It is important to protect it. The misuse of inside information undermines the entire financial system and unfairly disadvantages others in the market. Unfortunately, sometimes you see banking colleagues passing on sensitive information to relatives to withdraw their savings/Investments in the event of liquidity crisis, etc. This however is bad practice which must be avoided.

#5 Everyday, Use Good Judgement.
Every day is different, and you may face situations which are challenging and unfamiliar in your daily activities as an employee. In taking critical decisions, you need to pause and ask few questions; Is my decision in line with the organisation’s conduct? Have I consulted others and asked for information to help me make an informed decision? Is this decision within my authority? Am I setting a good example? Is this the right thing to do?

As a banker, you should feel confident that you can defend the decisions or actions you take in light of the difficult situations you face. Being methodical and informed when considering solutions will help deliver a positive outcome.

#6 Treat Colleagues with respect and fairness.

There is a popular saying that, treat people the way you want them to treat you. Sometimes the workplace can become very toxic where colleagues do not respect their line managers and vice versa. This is not a good practice in any shape and form. Trust and fairness are a central part of our approach in managing and developing people.

By building on the strengths and abilities of our employees, we can help them achieve their full potential. And if we work better as a team, we will be able to better serve our clients.

The six points listed above may not be exhaustive enough, but good pointers to live by. Upholding the code of conduct as financial sector professionals will help deepen financial landscape, minimise fraudulent activities and boost confidence with stakeholders. Of course, no single document in this world can spell out what is right or wrong in every situation, so you are expected to exercise good personal judgment at all times.

We all have a critical role to play as employees, employers and regulators to build and sustain a robust financial sector. The Chartered Institute of Bankers should continue training Bankers and offer the guidance to maintain the standards. More importantly, Banks with Learning and Development centres should endeavour to inculcate ethics and up professionals who must understand the rudiments of the game.

Thank you for reading. Wishing everyone a prosperous Christmas and Happy New Year.

About the writer
Carl Odame-Gyenti, PhD is a Banking, Finance, and Investment professional with an International Bank in Ghana. Contact: [email protected] , Cell: +233 200301110