When actions and values don’t align, thousands lose their savings

When actions and values don’t align, thousands lose their savings

The obvious topic for my blog this week is the hot water Commonwealth Bank has found itself in through dodgy advice doled out by its financial planners over around a 10 year period.

Plenty has been written about the poor and somewhat tardy response by the organisation and others have also been quick to paint it as a scandal and demand a royal commission. Post-GFC, I’m not sure how a financial institution behaving badly with investors’ money is even a scandal anymore.

I want to put aside the crisis management discussion and take a look at the situation via an alignment lens.

Alan Kirkland, CEO of consumer group Choice, called Commonwealth Bank out around the sincerity of its apology given it was one of the financial institutions lobbying for a partial wind back of the Future of Financial Advice legislation, saying: “If the Commonwealth Bank was truly sorry, they would not have lobbied to remove essential consumer protections for financial advice.”

Great point.

As I often note, actions speak louder than words but words often set the expectation and make the promises. So let’s take a look at Commonwealth Bank’s words.

Looking around it was a bit hard to find anything concrete on values, but under the strategy (and oddly also in the facts and figures) section of its website is its vision:

“Our vision is to excel at securing and enhancing the financial wellbeing of people, businesses and communities.”

Hmmm. Now absolutely a vision is a point on the horizon that you are headed for and may never get to. But given the current situation, and by all measures, I’d say they have some significant progress to make before they are “excelling at enhancing the financial wellbeing of people…”

To be fair, the bigger the organisation, the harder it is to bring all the bits and pieces across the business into alignment across vision, purpose and values.

It can seem like trying to steer the Titanic with a paddle.

On that front SMEs have a distinct advantage – usually being more contained in both service and geographic scope and with less people to get on the bus.

And still it’s incredibly hard work that needs constant vigilance and rigorous attention to detail.

The lesson here for SMEs building your brands is that the promises you make and expectations you set matter – a lot. The Commonwealth Bank’s failure was it didn’t follow through on what it said it cared about – financial wellbeing (paraphrasing here).

No organisation that truly believes what it is saying could set that expectation and act the way it did. Sure you might get one or two rogue people doing the wrong thing. But this kind of widespread wrongdoing speaks to an organisation that is fundamentally out of alignment.

You might see this as just business as usual for large corporates (and many not-so-large ones). And sadly you’d quite possibly be right. But I aspire to a slightly higher goal for our corporates and any business really.

I don’t ask or expect them all to make the world a better place, but as a starting point it would be nice if they were to at least try to meet the expectations they set and keep their promises (and not destroy people’s lives in the process).

Because when they don’t, you end up with thousands of people without their savings and your CEO having to say sorry, we’ll try and do better.

The real question is whether they CAN?

See you next week.

Michel is an independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at michelhogan.com. You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan.


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