Posted: April 13, 2009
Good banking goes beyond the money
Good bankers are ethical, and they're good friends to their communitiesBy Michele Falivene
There is a great deal of finger pointing going on these days as we grapple with the causes and impacts of the recession. Employees, businesses, government officials and consumers want to know who to blame and how to hold someone accountable for their losses. But it’s that lack of accountability and a very public absence of personal responsibility that has left many people without the answers they’re looking for. While we can’t rewrite the past for those who engaged in questionable lending practices, excessive spending or billion-dollar Ponzi schemes, we can certainly learn from their mistakes and revisit the principles behind banking institutions that offer uncompromised integrity and sound ethical standards.
For these banks, ethics don’t come into play when someone starts asking questions. Ethics are the basis for the business. Ethics drive good behavior when no one is looking.
Banking is so much more than products or services. It’s a network of people, investments and complex decisions. An effective ethical policy details an organization's commitment to best practices and makes ethical considerations a primary decision-making factor. “Banking starts by listening carefully to the needs of clients, and creating the right, unique solutions, all within the framework of honest and ethical treatment of all parties involved,” said Jay Davidson, founder of First American State Bank in Greenwood Village, a 2009 finalist for the Colorado Ethics in Business Daniel L. Ritchie award and where I am proud to serve as senior vice president.
Ethical behavior is doing the right thing whether there is a two-way street or not. Relationships, based on mutual respect, are never one transaction looking for a quick reward but instead focus on long-term goals and objectives.
How do you seek out an ethical bank?
Businesses and consumers must be alert, cautious and willing to ask tough questions when seeking a new bank. Speak up when something doesn’t feel right. Ethics are sometimes difficult to define, but there are some important questions that make ethical behavior easier to identify.
• Does the bank staff take the time to get to know you and your business? If there is a mistake or concern does the bank staff take the extra step to get your question answered or problem solved?
• Is the bank able to offer customized lending solutions while maintaining high lending standards?
• If the bank has to tell you “No” for a service you requested, do they explain why and offer alternatives?
• Do you have a relationship that includes decision makers who know you personally?
• Does the bank support long-term relationships with employees as well as customers?
• What is the bank’s level of commitment to the local community, nonprofit boards and charitable events?
• Is your bank engaging their assets by lending into the local community?
• Does your bank have an ethics statement? A code of conduct?
• Do their ethics promote sustainability?
Look for a banker who is willing to answer the questions above. If they don’t support open dialogue about their business practices, move on.
When it’s time to make a change
Given today’s economic uncertainty, consumers are raising the bar. They are jaded by recent events and have fewer dollars to spend or invest. As a result, they’re making choices much more cautiously than in the past, and businesses will have to rise to the occasion or risk losing customers. It’s a buyer’s market and customers can – and should – expect high levels of service communication and integrity. If banks aren’t responsive to customer concerns, or seem unwilling to resolve issues or explain questionable behavior, customers must act. All banks are required to provide information to federal regulators and this information is available on the FDIC website. Another good resource is the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (Division of Banking).
Banks are a crucial part of the world’s economic infrastructure and unethical operations have serious implications on individuals and businesses. It is incumbent that ethics are engrained into the industry and that personal responsibility and corporate accountability be incorporated into every day operations, rather than it be something we go looking for after damage has been done. Good bankers are good friends to their community; they uphold the standards of integrity that define good banking.
Michele Falivene is senior vice president of First American State Bank in Greenwood Village.