Talk to any banking professional and they will say Bank of Singapore is known for its strong (some say aggressive) growth. Our performance-driven culture over the past nine years has led to strategic acquisitions and a growing market share in Asia, Europe and Middle East.
However, for 2019 going into 2020, I want to further embed ethics into the foundation of Bank of Singapore’s culture.
While ethics have always formed the background of what we do, it has taken a backseat at some financial institutions over the past decade. Various institutions – including top international banks – have been mired in controversies stemming mostly from an imbalance between the pursuit of financial goals and responsible banking.
In other words, ethics had been bumped off the head table and the culture at those institutions was wobbly, which also called for stronger supervision from the regulators. The Monetary Authority of Singapore, for example, has intensified its efforts to elevate standards of culture of trust and ethical behaviour in the financial sector through both pre-emptive measures and enforcement actions.
In line with this expectation, Bank of Singapore’s parent company, OCBC Bank, announced in March that it had set up a new Board Ethics and Conduct Committee, which is also the first such committee by a Singapore bank.
With the world of private banking still reeling from the controversies, I want Bank of Singapore not just to do the right thing but to be known for doing so. I want us to grow the business the right way.
Let me first mention a unique problem.
We are a young bank that lays claim to less than 10 years in the business. But in that time, we have grown significantly by acquiring the wealth and investment management business of Barclays in Singapore and Hong Kong in 2016, and establishing a branch in Dubai International Financial Centre in 2017.
More recently, we launched our European subsidiary in Luxembourg and London.
The rapid growth means that we have over 2,000 colleagues coming from a myriad of different financial institutions and backgrounds.
While we are proud to say that we have a lot going for us, including an entrepreneurial spirit, a strong and unified culture would be that much harder to forge.
Working together with our parent company OCBC Group, we have recently refreshed our five ‘core values’ for which we want to be known, and which will form the bedrock for all that our people do professionally and personally. These are Lasting Value, Integrity, Forward-Looking, Respect and Responsibility.
Identifying and articulating these core values will help us achieve our objectives. For instance, they give us the tools to hire with greater care, allowing us to bring aboard those aligned to our values.
For our existing employees, these values act as a ‘model’ that people can look to for inspiration as well as a set of guiding principles on which to base their business decisions.
It goes deeper than that, too.
With core values available as models, no employee can claim not to know what behaviour is expected of him or her. He would, for instance, be expected to make decisions that create long term value for our clients.
I want to see our employees fulfilling their promises and taking ownership over doing the right things, in business and beyond.
This all translates into fairer outcomes for our clients, creating long-lasting value for them and their businesses.
And ultimately, I am not interested in a culture built solely on financials.
History has shown that a financials-only culture does not contribute to the overall success of an organisation. Instead, it usually leads to short-term thinking, shady dealings and corners being cut.
I am clear that Bank of Singapore exists to help our clients and their businesses prosper, and in turn create lasting value to the economy and communities we serve.
With our values in place, we can accelerate the building of the right culture. What’s more, we are putting our money where our mouth is.
Employees will be evaluated on how well they are living our core values and those exhibiting good conduct and behaviours will be rewarded with an additional performance bonus, which we are fleshing out fully with our human resources team.
Those who are found to be less than stellar in their ratings will be penalised, too. Admittedly, we could have leaned in on just the punitive function, but that’s the easy route. I find it more inspiring to make an ask of my people, and to reward them if they answer the call.
Today, the banking industry is being transformed rapidly. The way we provide our services is evolving fast as technology races ahead; the jobs we do have expanded or morphed and the competition is stronger than ever before.
Even our clients’ expectations have changed in many ways too – but not all ways. They still expect us to be utterly worthy of their trust. That is why our underlying values must be unambiguous.
This brings me back to how we must not just do the right thing but be known for doing so.
Our values and culture – which we publicly declare as part of our outward-facing communications – will leave no doubt as to what we want to stand for. They are the standard by which we invite clients to judge us.
I recognise that culture takes time to strengthen, so all the more reason to start now. I hope that we can create a powerful dynamic that will be the basis of a flourishing business, but also a flourishing community.
In time to come, I am confident that when it comes to our reputation on the street, Bank of Singapore will be known not just for its strong growth but its ethical culture too.
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