The lesson we should all learn from Australia’s Banking Royal Commission.

Sinead Hourigan, President of RCSA and Queensland Director with Robert Walters.

In December 2017 a Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry started a sobering investigation into Australia’s financial services sector. As the commission continued throughout 2018 and details of the some of the illegal and morally questionable behaviour of some employees in this sector were revealed, it became evident some of the findings would be cause for soul-searching around the role ethics should play in business.

There were reports of “hundreds of millions of dollars” in fees charged for no service – in some cases including fees charged to dead people for years – to inadequate systems around issuing mortgages to the Commissioner Kenneth Hayne saying basic standards of honesty were ignored as the motivator became “greed”, “avarice” and the “pursuit of profit”.

The Australian Financial Review described it as “one of the most consequential royal commissions ever conducted in Australia.” And when the final report from the Royal Commission was tabled in February this year, a stream of resignations from senior executives working in this sector began to trickle in as the breadth of questionable practice was laid bare for all to see.

The Royal Commission shone a spotlight on the alleged unethical behaviour and deep-seated “win at all costs” mentality, which is done so at the expense of the customer. 

I believe there is a very real need for us as recruiters to lead by example for our clients by having a clear commitment to a values-driven approach and encouragingly, many people feel the same way. The Royal Commission has been a catalyst for a lot of businesses to re-examine their own values and what staff believe is the driving force. Is it profit or is it a commitment to quality service? 

The two can, and should, be compatible but this is sometimes not the case.

In recent months, I have found that almost everyone I speak with, from clients to candidates, to RCSA members and key decision-makers in business, are looking at ways to encourage a stronger values-aligned approach in their business. We would do well to remember that candidates and our own teams are more attracted to companies which live and breathe their values. This means going beyond what is printed on company marketing material; they want to see people and leaders embodying the company’s values every day. 

As the recruitment and staffing sector is a central point of reference for many employers and candidates, values alignment is incredibly relevant to what we do and the way we do it.

We should be hiring in our own businesses for values alignment while also assessing values alignment for our candidates and clients in our recruitment practices. 

This means internally, we need to constantly question our own operating models, ensuring that the customer (client and candidate) is at the centre of everything we do.  

As a service, we need to place genuine emphasis on assessing how a candidate matches the values of clients, work to understand their values and use that information to assist them in finding an environment which aligns with them and their values and beliefs.

This comes down to asking the question: “how do we encourage both values-driven and commercially driven engagement?”  

It would be naive to believe our sector is not driven by commercial imperatives and we all have a responsibility to deliver commercially sustainable outcomes, but it should not and does not, need to be done at the expense of treating people with respect.  

Our role as an intermediary in the recruitment and selection process provides us with deep insights into both our candidates and our clients and we have a moral responsibility to ensure that we use those insights in a meaningful way.  

I want to represent a sector that focuses on being not only financially sustainable but also a valued partner to our customers and we should hold ourselves to account on that every single day. 

Hopefully you are all with me on the journey.

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