An Oath to Serve: Dutch Banking Association Requires Pledge From Members
Starting in 2015, 90,000 bankers in the Netherlands will be required to pledge to uphold a series of standards—or else risk fines or suspension. Reactions to the idea have been mixed.
“I swear that I will perform to the best of my abilities to maintain and promote confidence in the financial sector. So help me God!”
Next year, 90,000 members of the Dutch Banking Association (NVB) will be saying this line, or a nonreligious variant of it, as part of a required binding oath. If they fall short of the eight requirements laid out by the oath, the members could face blacklisting, fines, or even suspensions.
The idea? The industry hopes to hold its members to higher standards in an effort to win back the public’s trust after years of foundational weaknesses were exposed by the financial crisis. The industry hopes the oath helps prove that it’s taking the public’s concerns seriously and that bankers are respecting their client’s—and society’s interests—and not being reckless.
“The confidence of society in the banking industry has been shaken, and this is a way to make it clear that the lessons of the crisis have been learned,” NVB Chairman Chris Buijink told The New York Times on Dec. 12. “We are renewing the way we do business, from the top of the bank to the bottom.”
Executives have already been required to take the pledge; now it’ll be required of bankers at lower levels.
It’s something of a Hippocratic oath for the banking industry, and one that some pundits think others could benefit from.
David Fagelman, a researcher for the British think tank ResPublica, recommends that bankers in the other parts of the world push for such an honor code.
“A bankers’ oath would begin to restore virtue to the sector by setting the right environment towards creating a culture for bankers to flourish and provide the right services for their customers,” Fagelman wrote in The Guardian in July. “An oath can provide a sense of duty, responsibility and deep-rooted involvement from employees that rules and guidelines have so far failed to provide.”
But the oath is not without critics. René Tissen, a Dutch business professor at Nyenrode Business University in Breukelen, jokingly told Reuters that it should be called “the Bernanke oath.”
“It’s ridiculous,” Tissen said in February. “People wonder whether bankers will ever adhere to it, in the light of the culture of self-enrichment. There’s a deep distrust, and it keeps coming to the surface.”
He said “banks cut down in size” would be a much more effective way to restore public trust.