It was without doubt, the strangest of years. Covid-19 has forced us all to change so much of our lives and lifestyles. At the Irish Banking Culture Board all has gone virtual since March 2020. Our work however has continued uninterrupted and is well described in this annual report. I pay tribute to our staff who have worked so well to keep the show on the road. They have all laboured tirelessly from home, as have so many throughout the country, balancing family, social and working obligations and challenges. They have nonetheless had a most productive year. Our mission of working with our member banks to build trustworthiness in order to assist the industry in regaining public trust has continued to make great progress this year. All meetings have, of course, had to be virtual, and we have all had to become used to working via Zoom or other similar media. Although the in-person meeting is far preferable for a whole host of reasons, virtual meetings are certainly better than nothing. We all hope to return to and continue with more normal methods of working in the very near future. In response to the significant issues arising for bank customers and staff as a result of the pandemic, our Board decided to meet monthly from March 2020 and met a total of 13 times over the year. I would like to thank all Board members for their commitment and contribution during the period. The Board itself has continued to operate well as a collective. In order to ensure this continues, we have had a board effectiveness review carried out by an external organisation. The verdict is that we work very well as a team bringing our different perspectives very constructively together to deal with the goals of the IBCB. We will continue this process of self-examination periodically.
In July 2020, the Board agreed our Strategic Plan up to March 2022, the end of our first 3-year term. As before, this plan is based upon our findings from our staff and public surveys identifying the issues that confront the banking sector in regaining public trust. This plan is flexible and will also be informed by the éist surveys of bank staff and customers carried out in Spring of this year. We have established a third pillar in addition to the two existing ones of internal (staff) and external (public). This third pillar addresses the role of the bank in the community and society. We have had a very active year involving many webinars, working groups and other meetings all pursuing the aims of the work streams we have established. These are well described in this report. Among the matters dealt with were financial awareness focussed on the impact of Covid-19 on consumers and business notably customers in a vulnerable position and the payment breaks initiated by our member banks. We have continued with our focus on SMEs and the farming community and their very particular issues arising from the pandemic. There has been continuing review of the Common Commitment of Care for Bereaved Customers. The imminent SEAR arrangements have been considered in a roundtable with international representatives and further such meetings will be arranged in order to ensure that we contribute to this incoming regime informed by expertise from around the world.
Over the course of the past year, we have continued to engage with, and expand on, our contacts internationally whom have an interest in cultural change in banking. I, and our CEO Marion Kelly participated in one of the board meetings of the UK Financial Services Culture Board whilst their Chair and CEO joined in one of our board meetings during the year. We were delighted to be invited by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to present to its Education and Industry Forum on Financial Services Culture, which we did on two separate occasions over the year. We also presented to the Australian Regulator – APRA during the period.
In September 2020 we launched our DECiDE framework for ethical decision making. This was the product of extensive co-create sessions with a wide range of experts. In September 2021 we launched our Guiding Principles for Change agreed by our five member banks. This will be a priority focus for us in the coming year to ensure that where change is to occur in the banking sector, all key stakeholders, in particular customers and staff, are kept fully informed in a timely fashion. The Community and Society report that we commissioned during the year addresses the role of the bank in the community and thus our third pillar. It outlines a path forward in this area that I consider of immense importance for the future.
I hope that readers of this report will be able to find in it an encouraging message of constructive change in the culture of the banking sector in Ireland. Throughout the year I have been greatly impressed by the genuine commitment to changing culture that I have encountered among all our stakeholders, including bank staff at every level. Our éist survey of bank staff has shown much has been achieved notably in Speaking Up. Creating an environment where staff feel they can safely challenge is one of our key objectives. The finding that 85% of staff believe their colleagues act in an ethical manner is well ahead of the industry norm globally and shows a considerable degree of improvement from our previous research. There remains much to be done but a great deal has been achieved to date. Our éist public survey highlights the continuing challenge for the industry in regaining trust, but that is only to be expected. Internal change has to occur and be seen to occur before we can achieve significant levels of trust in the banking sector. I look back on the year with considerable satisfaction. In the face of the great difficulty that we, like all Irish society, have had to face, we have kept our endeavour moving positively forward. I look forward to next year with enthusiasm and optimism.