Diversity and Inclusion  

FCA: Culture is ‘personality, habits, ethos of the organisation’

FCA: Culture is ‘personality, habits, ethos of the organisation’

The culture of financial services organisations is often depicted in binary terms, “either dull and Jurassic or reckless and scandalous”, according to the Financial Conduct Authority. 

Speaking at City and Financial Global's 8th Annual Culture and Conduct Forum for the Financial Services Industry today (November 20), Emily Shepperd, chief operating officer and executive director of authorisations at the FCA, said films and programmes often depict that greed is the underlying motivation of financial services professionals.

Giving examples of the Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short, she said all of these demonstrate financial services in a negative light.  

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“In fact, the only positive depiction of a financial services professional I could find was that of George Bailey, the main character in It’s A Wonderful Life,” she said.

“But that was released in 1946. It was a loss-making flop for many years before becoming a classic.”

Shepperd said the culture of financial services is depicted in a negative light but questioned what culture actually is.

“I think of culture as being the personality, habits and ethos of the organisation”, she said.

“It has been said that culture is what you do when no one is looking.

“But to be a leader means to shape your organisations’ culture rather than hiding behind HR.”

She discussed the importance of senior people not imposing an inherited culture that can create barriers to progress, and stated that the FCA expects senior leaders to nurture healthy cultures in the firms they lead. 

“Cultures that are purposeful. That have sound controls and good governance. Where employees feel psychologically safe to speak up and challenge. 

“Where remuneration does not encourage irresponsible behaviour that can ultimately damage the business and wider markets.”

She explained that one of the most direct ways managers and leaders can shape culture from the start – and spot when it needs changing – is through language. 

“Have you noticed how if a boss uses a term, whether it is ‘pivot’, ‘leverage’ or ‘wet fish’, suddenly everyone in the workplace begins to use pivot, leverage and wet fish?,” she said.

“That is because often the boss and those at C-suite level set the tone for culture.”

Shepperd explained that when she first started at the FCA, she found the custom of asking a question and having to wait for the answer to be fact checked by several people too slow.

“I found that deploying the revolutionary technique of cutting down on emails and walking around and talking to people more effective and immediate,” she said.

“Our role as a regulator is to lead by example and we do care about culture as it informs conduct and that is what we regulate.”

She said the consumer duty will help with the culture aspect as the regulator has asked firms to think about what a good outcome would be for their customers and to apply that consideration at every stage of producing and delivering a product or service.