Date posted: 8/04/2019 5 min read

Rebuild public trust right from the top

How can chartered accountants retain public trust when financial institutions have lost it? Ethical leadership is a start.

In Brief

  • Public trust in the financial sector was shaken by the findings of the banking royal commission in Australia and the inquiry into the life insurance industry in New Zealand.
  • Rebuilding that trust and confidence requires ethical behaviour and leadership to flow from boardrooms through all levels of financial sector organisations.
  • While trust is already part of a CA’s calling card, it should never be taken for granted.

On both sides of the Tasman, chartered accountants will be aware of the findings of recent major reports that have significantly affected public trust in our financial institutions.

The Australian Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry and the joint review conducted by the Financial Markets Authority and Reserve Bank on the conduct and culture in the New Zealand life insurance industry released their reports within days of each other at the beginning of 2019. What they revealed has been top of mind for many in the profession.

The reports of both inquiries highlighted the importance of improving professionalism, transparency and accountability. Ethical behaviour is fundamental to rebuilding public trust and confidence. As a profession, accountants accept the responsibility to act in the public interest. It goes to the heart of what it means to be a chartered accountant, a trusted adviser.

As many in the financial sector can attest, trust can take years to earn, and only seconds to lose. In an increasingly global world, and increasingly global profession, it is important to know that trust is also a major measurement on the world stage – the Edelman Trust Barometer and Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index are just two such measures.

“As many in the financial sector can attest, trust can take years to earn, and only seconds to lose.”
Stephen Walker FCA

As the public comes to terms with these findings about our financial institutions, and as the level of trust and confidence falls, the question in many boardrooms and senior leadership teams is likely to be “how we can rebuild trust?”

As chartered accountants, this is a great opportunity to reflect on our standing in the community. Across the public, not-for-profit and private sectors, from government departments to community charities to small businesses, it is a timely reminder that we should never take public trust for granted.

I am pleased to say that the accounting profession remains on high alert when it comes to the question of trust. The trust we have built with our clients and our communities is the calling card of CAs.

To return to our boardroom and senior leadership team question, what can we do to rebuild trust that has been so hard earned? It is my view that ethical leadership is the driving force for a profession that depends on trust and confidence.

Ethical leadership starts from the very top in our boardrooms and senior leadership teams, and is then lived throughout organisations, especially in those most important institutions that we depend on. 

To uphold our ethics, whenever we make decisions that impact others we should ask ourselves: “I may have the right to do this, but is it the right thing to do?” I encourage you to start a conversation about what ethics means to you and in your organisations.

The profession is changing, and so we must change, too. I look forward to working with chartered accountants to continue our professional legacy of the utmost trust and confidence.

Read more:

Read more about building trust in the April May 2019 issue of Acuity

Read it here

Technology is changing accounting, but face-to-face service is still the best way to build trust

Read more findings from CA ANZ’s report The Future of Trust: New Technology Meets Old Values.

How accountants can survive the public trust crisis

Read more