Gotta Love Those Aussies

After 5 splendid years in Australia, I remain persuaded to the ingenuity and inventiveness of Australians.

De-salination plants in Perth, and the Snowy Mountains Scheme, to name but two examples of outstanding achievements.

NZ isn’t short of these either, but I’m just considering our nearest neighbour, and in particular, our colleagues in the financial services industry there.

They’ve had a pretty tough road to negotiate; FSRA was dumped on them for compliance within 12 months; ASIC executes practitioners and organisations on a regular basis, the nonsense report from Trowbridge on unsubstantiated churn; and risk advisers facing significant reductions in cash flow and, potentially, overall earnings.

In the face of all this, Australian advisers have proved to be remarkably resilient, and with eternal optimism, have faced up stoically to the challenges.

However, there are times when a question mark has to be placed against an idea.

The latest wheeze to come out of the banking and finance industry is the Banking Finance Oath – check it out.

The Oath is “founded on a shared belief in the inherent ‘good’ of the banking and finance industry” – as the website claims.

For A$20, you can ‘take’ the Oath and become a signatory to some pretty lofty ideals expressed in some pretty fine words.

By ticking against each of the 7 ‘commitments’, you are now under Oath to “serve all interests in good faith’ and ‘help create a more just society’ – amongst other similar ideals comprising the Oath.

Not sure what happens if you elect not to tick all 7 – in particular, “I will accept responsibility for my actions”. This applies presumably if your employer cuts you loose and refuses to accept licensee obligations.

Kiwis headed for Financial Advice Representative status can breathe a sigh of relief, as they likely won’t be required to sign an Oath that contains this personal responsibility commitment.

But don’t think this is just the idea of an enthusiastic web designer drumming up a few bucks on the side. There is a full governance structure – Chairman, Board, and a Policy Council, etc., comprised of prominent industry figures giving of their time to advance the cause of the Oath.

There are Programs, Articles, Press Releases, and a fascinating item referred to as ‘Like Minded Lunches’ – sounds like a bonzer afternoon!

But, call me cynical, call me suspicious – I’ve been called worse – but the first signatory to the Oath that absconds with some client funds, misleads a client with limited investment advice, or mis-sells a bunch of less than glorious bank life insurance products – and is pinged by ASIC for doing so - renders this Oath as useful as a chocolate teapot.

Banking lobbies tend to be very effective in the OECD economies – with the exception of Iceland where the dudes who brought about the demise of the economy there during the GFC, are still doing time.

With this particular ‘Oath’ initiative, I have no idea how ASIC has responded, but my experience of the individuals who populate the Australian regulator would suggest a collective eye-roll, or a comprehensive bout of uncontrolled thigh-slapping mirth.

As an attempt to attest to the integrity of the industry, and to indulge in a modicum of self-regulation, I applaud the efforts of those good people involved, and their enlightened employers - including Goldman Sachs and J P Morgan, those doyens of honesty and integrity that positively exude Wall Street righteousness.

These organisations are the guardians of the ‘inherent good’ to which the Oath refers, but I seriously doubt if even one client or investor who was wiped out in the GFC, will take a blind bit of notice of the Oath.

The victims of the GFC may indeed be inclined to utter oaths, but I suspect they will be of a more Anglo-Saxon expletive nature, given their experience of the ‘inherent good’ of the banking and finance industry.

As mentioned, I am admiring of the ingenuity of my erstwhile colleagues across the ditch, and I suspect that the hundreds of signatories will feel a whole lot better about their role in ‘creating a just society’, but I wonder if this somewhat dewy-eyed initiative will resonate with consumers.

Time will tell – by my oath it will!