The issues of trust and integrity, not only in public life but as part of our individual moral fibre, has moved centre stage as people of all walks of life are once more debating these great issues of the day.
The almost universal attacks on bankers – some of it justified and some of it not so – which culminated in the removal of the knighthood from Fred Goodwin and the ongoing national conversation about bonuses, shows that the nation now has an appetite, post recession, to discuss these serious issues.
This was the motivation behind the joint Fiscal Engineers/Financial Adviser Question of Trust campaign, which this week has been joined by His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury. As senior religious leaders, politicians and financial advisers join the campaign, the more important it is that integrity and trust in financial services not only underpins the relationship between adviser and advised, but becomes the very cornerstone of the sector.
Without trust retail finance is but a deal between hustlers with each looking for an opportunity to obtain an advantage, fair or otherwise, from the other. Trust also differs from a legal contract in that it does not depend on the fine print or the cleverness of the advice one side is receiving. Fundamentally trust is about moral transparency, best expressed in that tired and worn, but still true, old phrase: my word is my bond. Trust and integrity do not mean that an adviser would not make a mistake, advisers are not perfect.
Nor, perish the thought, is trust and integrity only an individual issue; corporate trust and integrity are equally as important, indeed more so in financial services, than the wrongdoings of individuals.
The design of products, the way a corporation deals with its customers, especially when that customer is being treated badly by some senior member of staff, that is when corporate integrity comes in to play. Too often we see large corporations instinctively backing members of staff, even before listening to the complainant. All financial services personnel should be compelled to take a form of Hippocratic Oath, not just a cold and emotionless examination, as a pledge of their professional integrity. Support our Question of Trust campaign.
A dysfunctional sector
Now we know: a senior executive of a motor insurance provider has described the sector as ‘dysfunctional’.
He was being polite. The motor insurance sector is by any measure the worst in the UK, and that has nothing to do with the organised gangs running accident claims companies.
It is a licence to print money and some of the most unscrupulous operators are found bedding down in the sector, hiding behind incompetent call centres with their underpaid, results-driven staff.