In my years running my own stockbroking and wealth management institution, the most important thing I’ve learnt is ensuring ethical and professional behaviour from your staff will determine the success or otherwise of your business. It needs to be monitored closely — much more closely than it is in most businesses today.
Ethical behaviour is something that might come naturally to some of us, but for others, it is something that needs to be learnt, especially in a business context, whether through professional education, courses or by managers leading through example. But one thing is sure: sitting on your laurels and expecting your staff to always do their best by your clients is unrealistic.
Managing employees and making clear your expectation and standards on ethics is crucial. Many businesses do not spend enough time or resources guiding employees on how to act professionally and ethically or monitoring their performance — and this can come at a huge cost.
In the finance industry, there are many rules and regulations which regulate how we communicate with clients. We deal with clients’ wealth and our employees must provide factual information over the phone and via email. Our clients act on that general advice. Compliance requirements to act in the client’s best interests are high as well as bringing quality information that is evidence-based rather than an opinion.
In the aftermath of the Hayne royal commission, these requirements are only likely to increase. So businesses need to get a lot more serious about ethics training for their employees, and monitoring their conduct to make sure it is professional and ethical at all times.
Some people might think monitoring employees’ performance isn’t necessary, but that would be naive. In the finance industry, the public’s trust has been breached on many occasions through the unethical and unprofessional behaviour of people employed by financial service organisations, whether they be banks, superannuation funds or financial advisers. So, the need to rebuild trust is high for all players. Acting ethically is essential for this outcome to be achieved.
It isn’t enough for managers and business owners to lead by example. Ethics training or providing training modules are a good way to imprint in your employees’ minds the right way of doing business and provide solutions to common ethical dilemmas, well before they arise.
It might seem Orwellian, but checklists are important ways of monitoring employees’ conduct. Your staff determine the success or otherwise of your business, so ensuring you get the best from them is the most important thing managers can do.
I use a form for each staff member and ask them to sign it as an acknowledgement they have been compliant and factual at all times in dealing with clients. I use such forms on a daily basis so employees take accountability and know what is expected of them by management.
I arrange random telephone calls from clients who ask staff members questions. I use such calls to monitor employees’ performance and how they are distributing information and interacting with clients. This helps to ensure employees are complying with the conditions that govern their employment and the services they provide. This culture of compliance is important for the future sustainability of any financial institution, particularly following the Hayne royal commission where so many employees of financial organisations were found to be acting unethically and scrounging their customers.
Some business owners are too timid to pull employees into line or they might be tempted to turn a blind eye to unethical behaviour. But it is important small-business owners lead by example and implement an ethical culture within their workplaces. This task can be so much easier than in a large organisation overruled by bureaucratic processes and entrenched cultures of mediocrity.
Creating a culture of over-delivering is all part of the process of building an ethical and professional business. You have to believe that you are here to make a difference and bring clients opportunities from which they will benefit. You have to be client-focused and go above and beyond for their best interest. Ensuring your staff are in line with this goal is very important.
A dedicated team with a great work ethic and high professional standards creates a culture where they can see that what they do makes an impact or a difference for clients. If you don’t have the right professional and ethical standards in place, your staff can easily go off the rails, taking your business with it.