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IBF initiative aimed to rebuild trust in banking Back  
The publication of the IBF code marks the first time a single code of ethics, supported by codes of practice, has been agreed across IBF membership.
Sean Fitzpatrick, president of the Irish Bankers Federation underlined the importance of trust when he launched the IBF Code of Ethics in late November.

Commenting on the code he said ‘It is the product of much work over many months on the part of the IBF Secretariat and the Working Group. Working on behalf of all 60+ IBF-member institutions, their aim has been to put the very best practice in place for the future.’

He emphasised the essential role of banking and said ‘the industry has always made a significant contribution to Ireland.’

‘We are proud of that contribution and we are determined to ensure that it remains vibrant and strong. Employing over 31,000 people in Ireland, processing over 500 million transactions per annum and accounting for 3.5 per cent of Gross National Product, the banking sector is part of the essential lifeblood of the economy. The strength of the industry is both a reflection of, and a contributor to, the overall strength of the country’ he said.

‘Our industry needs to be strong and to remain committed to profitable and commercial methods of operation. In an era of increasing globalisation, increasing technological capacity and complexity as well as increasing mobility, the financial services sector in Ireland faces many issues and challenges. We will have to debate all of these issues in the years ahead and indeed Ireland will have to debate them. Among the key questions, we will have to ask ourselves how important is it that Ireland should have an indigenous banking industry at all. If the answer is that it is important, what are the steps necessary to ensure that this happens.’

Trust was at the top of Fitzpatrick’s agenda and he believes that the code would help to foster that trust. ‘The key to it all is the same key that has always underpinned a strong banking sector confidence. Or, to use a word not much in vogue nowadays, trust. And our industry has to face an unpleasant fact where the word trust is concerned. It has been undermined in recent times, to a point where the image and perception of banks has been badly damaged.’

‘Over the next couple of days, the Sub-Committee of the Public Accounts Committee will be meeting to review what has been a tumultuous period in the history of public life in Ireland and in the history of the banking sector. Their review will be open and honest and it may even be painful for us to hear.’

‘But I believe that we all have at least one thing in common at a time like this. It is certainly my observation of the Sub-Committee’s work that it is informed by the need to ensure that nothing like this happens again... I have no doubt that this view is unanimously shared throughout our sector. The industry of which we are proud must do everything in its power to ensure that we do not warrant in future the degree of criticism that has been meted out to us in recent times.’

The publication of the code marks an important milestone for banking. It would be wrong to give the impression that the industry in Ireland has operated to date without such a code. Indeed, all IBF-member institutions have long had their own codes in place. However, this is the first time that a single Code of Ethics supported by a series of Codes of Practice has been agreed, such that it reaches right across the IBF membership. It is additionally gratifying to note that members of the Irish Mortgage and Savings Association will be adopting this Code of Ethics. It is intended to serve as a model for individual institutions. They are free to adopt additional measures as required and to integrate it into their existing codes.’

This document sets out our responsibilities in plain language.’

‘Secondly, the document relies on a relatively small number of values and principles. But they are key. The principles of integrity, confidentiality, professionalism and compliance are the most basic of modern banking and we have gone to some pains to ensure that they are at the heart of this Code of Ethics.

‘Thirdly, I believe that it is clear from the document that this Code of Ethics and Practice puts customers at the centre. If our industry is to remain strong into the future, it is vital that we accept the obligation to rebuild trust amongst our customers. We have accepted that obligation and we are prepared to embark on the rebuilding process, however long that takes.’

‘The publication of this Code of Ethics and Practice is part of that process - and it is part of a wider process too. Industries and service providers all over the world are recognising now that it is impossible to serve the interests of shareholders without understanding the position of other stakeholders in the wider community. We need to open a dialogue about the future with customers, with policy makers and with public representatives. And we need that dialogue to be inclusive - to be capable of recognising needs and realities in addition to the commercial imperatives with which we have to deal.’

‘In the months ahead, we have to do more than publish this document. A set of paper values and principles is worthy - no doubt about that. However, we have to go on and take the next step of making them operational from the lst January next in our daily working lives. Therein lies a further challenge.’

‘But publication - putting the values on the record and out for inspection - is the first step. I hope that this document will be seen as a useful first step and as a contribution to the wider dialogue to which I have referred. Above all, I hope its publication will send a simple message on behalf of the banking industry. That message is - ‘trust is important to us and we are determined to rebuild it.’

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