More Than A Few Rotten Apples: Why We Can't Trust Bankers Any More.
Only this morning, it emerged that HSBC, the world's second largest bank, could be (http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/362276/20120712/hsbc-banking-scandal-billion-dollar-fine-laundering.htm) slapped with a $1 billion fine and is to be hauled before a Senate committee next week to apologize for lax money-laundering controls.
The news comes on top of the Barclay's Libor-fixing scandal, which resulted in the British lender being fined a record $449 million earlier this month and could involve a further 15 banks reportedly under investigation for their part in the scam.
But does the industry deserve such a poor reputation, or are the vast majority tarnished by a few rotten apples?
Well, in a word, yes.
According to (http://issuu.com/transparencyinternational/docs/2012_transparencyincorporatereporting_en) a report released on Tuesday , financial firms are among the least transparent of the world's largest corporations.
"As the single largest sector in the sample, financial companies vary in terms of their results, but, in general, their performance is poor: As a group, they performed below average in all three dimensions of transparency," the Transparency International Report concluded.
"In view of their significant impact, financial companies should improve their reporting on all transparency-related issues and should ... extend their anti-corruption programs to cover agents and intermediaries."
Taking the world's top 105 publicly listed multinational companies, Transparency compiled a list of the best, and worst, in terms of their openness and ability to spot and fight corruption.
The advocacy group based their results on three key sections; anti-corruption programs, organizational structure and country-by-country reporting of revenues and other financial transactions -- i.e., how well local organizations can examine the firm's financial records.
Each of the three sections had a number of questions (13, 8 and 5, respectively) with the answers for each question graded either 0, 0.5 or 1 depending on how well the company fulfilled each question. The results were turned into percentages i.e. 13 out of 13 for the first section equals 100 percent.
In the anti-corruption section, financial firms scored an average of 56 percent, the lowest of all industry groups surveyed.
The survey noted that while many banks argue that anti-corruption programs are part of internal risk management and therefore confidential, others were perfectly happy to disclose this information.
In Transparency's words: "It is therefore possible to separate disclosure of propriety risk models from best practice in anti-corruption reporting."
On country-by-country reporting, financial firms fared even worse.
Out of the 24 firms on the list (by far the largest industry group in Transparency's analysis), 13 companies disclosed no data at all on their foreign subsidiaries. Only four -- Allianz, Banco Santander, HSBC (again) and Toronto-Dominican Bank -- disclosed what the report termed "considerable country-level data."
Crucially, one of the main excuses multinationals use to wiggle out of reporting their operations in dodgy countries -- namely that local legal, regulatory and informational requirements hinder them from doing so -- is debunked by Transparency's findings.
Even in the most legally dubious countries such as Kazakhstan, Russia and Nigeria, some firms managed to do it, even if the majority did not.
In terms of information disclosure, the financial sector received below average scores of around 67 percent. However, giving credit where it's due, eight firms did receive maximum scores (HSBC included), but, tellingly, no U.S. firms were among these.
Most worrying of all, only five of those surveyed said they prohibit "facilitation payments."
Somewhere between a bribe and a gift, such as payments are most often made to political parties and influential individuals to speed up administrative procedures such as the granting of licenses.
In 2009, the The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development did a U-turn and called for the end of facilitating payments, also known as "grease payments," tolerated by several governments.
Despite this, the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act still "greasing" as one of the few exceptions to anti-bribery legislation.
Indeed, in their 2011 (http://issuu.com/transparencyinternational/docs/bribe_payers_index_2011/17) Bribe Payers Index , Transparency found that out of 19 industries surveyed, the banking and finance sector was tied with forestry as the third-worst offender with respect to paying off officials.
Transparency's document follows hot on the heels of another damning analysis, this time focused on the individuals who work in finance.
(http://www.labaton.com/en/about/press/Labaton-Sucharow-announces-results-of-financial-services-professional-survey.cfm) A survey by corporate governance experts Labaton Sucharow LLP, also released earlier this week, found that out of 500 UK- and U.S.-based financial service workers, one-quarter said they would need to engage in illegal conduct to be successful, while 16 percent admitted they would commit a crime such as insider trading if they could get away with it.
Widening the net, the survey found that 39 percent believed their competitors were also likely to have engaged in illegal or unethical activity.
Tellingly, the survey by also uncovered the reason why so many City of (http://www.ibtimes.com/topics/detail/913/london) London types were prepared to break the law: bonuses.
A full 30 percent of respondents reported their compensation or bonus plan created pressure to compromise ethical standards or violate the law.
For an industry that constantly moans about overbearing regulation-stifling business, financial firms seem awfully reluctant to clean up their own act.
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|Publication:||International Business Times - US ed.|
|Date:||Jul 12, 2012|
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