TRUST AND REPUTATION IS VITAL FOR BANKING BUSINESS
Trust is a state of mind – a feeling of confidence. It is one thing that is common to every relationship, every team, family, organisation and nation throughout the world. It is so critical that its removal would destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character or the deepest love. On the other hand, if developed and leveraged, trust has the potential to create unparalleled success and prosperity in every dimension of life. One area in the business world where trust is so very vital is banking. The business of banking started by the goldsmiths was based on trust, credibility and reputation. And although the business of banking has grown in complexity over the centuries, the basic tenets of trust, credibility and reputation associated with goldsmith are justifiably demanded of practitioners today. Banking business demands integrity and unquestioned reputation. The Chartered Institute of Bankers Ghana, the professional association of bankers in Ghana, subscribes to this assertion by having as its motto the phrase “Honesty and Integrity”. Lack of these tenets could endanger a financial institution. The adverse economic consequences and contagion effects of financial crises and failures can be long term for any country.
Current banking scene
The banking industry in Ghana is in turmoil. Within a period of one year (from August 2017 to August 2018) the Ghana banking industry has witnessed the collapse of seven local banks due to liquidity and capital deficiency challenges. These bank failures were not caused by forces or pressures external to these banks. They were caused by breakdown in values, unethical behaviour and corporate irresponsibility by senior personalities of these banks. In banking, poor governance and management practices result inevitably in losses which negatively affect liquidity and/or solvency. Problems may be hidden for a while, but the truth will eventually become evident, leading eventually to collapse if remedial actions are not promptly taken. That was the fate of these seven banks. These high-profile failures have been the subject of much opprobrium especially in the media. As a result, public confidence in banks have declined and trust in the local banking industry have sunk low. Currently there are indications that depositors are moving funds from the indigenous local banks to the foreign banks, trusting that they would be secured and properly managed. Investors and stakeholders are also demanding that banks implement rigorous corporate governance principles in order to achieve better returns and security on their investments. The Central Bank, Bank of Ghana, in a bid to promote the sector stability and integrity to stern the growing lack of confidence have introduced new corporate governance guidelines and directives for banks. It is also working on other changes and reforms to be implemented very soon.
Trust in banking
A culture of trust protection is essential in banking. Banks need to understand how to earn and maintain trust, and how to build on existing trust. Trust can take years to build, a moment of badness could ruin it forever. After all the fabulous work banks have delivered over the years in this country, they have been rocked by these mistakes and errors of judgment that have affected the existence of some of them and threatening the whole industry. It would have been bad enough if the focus and concern was on management failures but it’s the integrity of the banking industry which is on the line. Mistakes can be usually forgiven, but one once trust is lost, it is extremely difficult to recover. Trust is critical to the success of the banking industry. It is trust which enables stakeholders to engage positively with banks and customers to place their assets with banks. Trust creates business, drives customer activity, delivers brand loyalty and generates income. It also keeps customers satisfied with services, helps colleagues feel valued, and contributes to the organisation’s long-term legacy. Trust can reduce uncertainty and risk. High levels of trust in the workplace will always reduce the need for costly and restrictive control. But the lack of trust can be expensive and highly damaging to both individuals and organisations.
Trust and Reputation
Reputation is ultimately a measure of trust. The banking sector is one where society is entitled to expect probity and entitled to demand high standards. These high-profile banking failures and mistakes have taken its toll on public confidence. The actions and inactions by the leaders of these banks have set many pulses rising and the reputation of many of its leaders are at stake and for some their reputations have been seriously affected. Reputation dictates how people behave and in whom they place their trust. Once trust is gone it is very difficult to regain and in some cases its loss is irredeemable. The saying ’’Trust is earned’’ rings true when it comes to reputation management. The directors and key shareholder of these banks should never delude themselves by thinking that people will wink at these stories or believe what they have to say when it is clear they have failed. There is a point at which people will draw the line and refuse to engage with you. This is particularly true when alleged criminal conduct is involved. It’s not easy to come back from that kind of failure and repair your reputation.
A number of key personalities, religious leaders, business executives and politicians, who have built solid careers and earned respect for their contributions to society, have been implicated in these scandals, which may taint their reputations irrevocably. Whether or not they have criminal charges to answer to is immaterial. The fact that they have been associated with alleged malfeasance and corrupt behaviour renders them untouchables on many levels. Their alleged indiscretions have become public knowledge and their reputation have been dragged through the mud and tarnished forever. Mark Twain said “Laws control the lesser man…right conduct controls the greater one”. If these allegations are true, i.e. being part of a conspiracy which eventually led to the collapse of banks, then these leaders are not the great personalities they portray to the public. Actions prove who someone is, words just prove who they pretend to be.
What is sad is that some of these individuals have qualifications, gifts, skills and experience that could be used to help turn this country around. It will be interesting to see how they will come back from this loss of reputation.
Trust and trustworthiness are critical for effective relationships and effective organizations. Individuals and institutions incur high costs when trust is misplaced. There’s a ‘crisis of trust’ in the Ghanaian financial industry. Public confidence has been corroded. There is perception that banks and financial institutions are not acting in the interests of their customers. The Ghanaian public need to be reassured that it is safe to deal with or rely on banks. Rather than looking towards outside to blame regulators and authorities, banks must make integrity the norm in their operations. Banks must go to great lengths, both internally and externally, to convince its stakeholders and public at large that they are serious about changing their culture for the better. This means that they must operate in an ethical and trustworthy manner. They must acknowledge their mistakes and make company-wide changes. These changes include transforming the banks culture, their balanced scorecard, the citizenship lens, reputational risk, and put values in action. They must create “speak-up systems” which encourage individuals to report questionable or corrupt behaviour from peers or supervisors instead of the prevailing culture of ‘wilful blindness’ where staff members ignore situations which they know to be wrong. Working individually and together, banks can make the difference, and when they succeed, they will all feel proud of the turnaround in the industry.
Now is the time for the regulators to develop working solutions that combine strong corporate governance and effective anti-corruption initiatives to restore trust in the Ghanaian banking industry. This will guide the banks in upholding business integrity, promoting ethical culture, enhancing transparency, and maintaining robust checks and balances on inappropriate behaviour within their business. Fidelity to rebuilding trust in bank is an essential element in the success of businesses, governments, and societies. It is in everyone’s interest.