THE BLOG

Restoring Trust in the Investment Industry

03/05/2013 14:08 BST | Updated 02/07/2013 10:12 BST

Since 2008 the financial services industry has struggled with the issue of trust. From banker bashing to deposed knights, the public mood is increasingly sceptical of the abilities of the investment industry to operate ethically and act in the best long-term interests of investors and the public.

Over the last two decades, the finance industry has de-coupled from the underlying economy, acting more as an end in itself rather than a means to serve the public and social good.

As a result, governments around the world are having to take action to balance the (at times conflicting) goals of rescuing national economies, saving banking institutions and protecting ordinary savers' hard earned investments.

Here in the UK, a radical overhaul of the regulatory system has been the focus of action to ensure tougher scrutiny and swift intervention. But ultimately, the impetus to reform the culture of the investment industry and win back the public's trust rests with the profession itself.

A dialogue within the industry is already providing some insight on a path forward. In our survey of CFA Institute members, the Global Market Sentiment Survey 2013, the majority of respondents indicated that a lack of ethical culture within financial firms has been the biggest contributor to the decline in confidence, and an even higher percentage stated that change must come from within organisations.

The old adage tells us that 'prevention is better than cure' and whilst a robust regulatory system will deliver the necessary checks and balances to identify, investigate and take action against misconduct, change must be driven from within organisations.

The industry must take action to instil a way of working that upholds rigorous ethical standards and practices and the paramount interests of clients, with the aim of eliminating the need for regulatory intervention.

Numerous surveys show that public trust in banks is at an all-time low, and a number of high profile executives and investment professionals have been held up as the embodiment of a culture of perceived reckless risk taking and excess. One of Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins's first moves on assuming his role was to introduce a strict ethics policy that all employees are expected to observe, a welcome move toward cultural shift. But what about the rest of the industry?

CFA Institute estimates that for every investment professional there are nine other professionals working in the organisation to enable that work - from operations accountants to marketers, lawyers, recruiters and IT developers, all of whom have different qualifications, experience, expertise and codes of conduct.

With its myriad of complex terms and systems, concerns have been raised around inconsistent levels of common understanding between these functions, with no way of knowing if they are all 'speaking the same language' or adhering to the same rules and regulations.

These groups cannot be ignored, and a more holistic view must be taken for how we raise investment acumen and professional standards across firms. While very few of these employees will be held to a legal fiduciary standard, every participant in the industry is a steward of a client's assets.

Ultimately, a re-energized commitment to ethics and competency will drive positive reform across financial services globally, moving away from the culture of blame on individual figures or organisations.

With a mandate to lead the industry in professionalism and education, CFA Institute is taking steps to address this issue through the launch next month of Claritas, a self-study course on the fundamentals of the investment industry. The new program, due to launch globally on 20 May, is aimed at all those working in the sector who are not directly involved in investment decision making.

This is just one step in a global call to action for all professionals to look to the future of financial services and consider what they and their companies can do to restore trust through a renewed focus on ethical conduct, understanding and knowledge sharing. We believe education has a vital role to play in this.

Whilst individuals must always be held to account for their actions, the debate needs to be complemented by a desire to move forward and focus on what can be done differently to ensure a more stable financial system for us all.