Opening Statement of Mr. Justice John Hedigan, Chair of The Irish Banking Culture Board, at the Oireachtas Finance Committee

Picture of Written In-House

Written In-House

Opening Statement at the Oireachtas Finance Committee

Good afternoon,

I would like to thank the Chairman and the members of the Oireachtas Finance Committee for the invitation to attend today’s session and to present the Irish Banking Culture Board to you. I am accompanied this afternoon by the acting CEO of the board, Ms. Marion Kelly. I am happy to answer any and all questions you have. Marion and I have been working very closely together on this endeavour and she will intervene when appropriate. Our aim is to ensure that your questions are answered fully and accurately.

The IBCB was established to regain public trust in banking. The only way banks can regain this trust is to earn it. Rebuilding wider society’s confidence in the industry will require time, persistence, courage and commitment. I believe that the board can play a key role in this process, through our own activities and through supporting and partnering with other relevant organisations.

I view the establishment of the IBCB as a positive development and an opportunity not to be missed. It is notable that 85% of the public and stakeholders who contributed to our consultation exercise supported the establishment of the board.

The IBCB is a unique body. Nothing like it has ever been established before in Ireland. The Board is composed of individuals with very different perspectives and backgrounds. All of them are stakeholders in the banking sector, who have agreed, for the first time, to collectively work together to improve banking culture.

We have created a structure that represents the best means to contribute to real and authentic change in a way that delivers for the citizens of our country. The fact that the banks are on the Board, but in a minority, represents to my mind, the best of both worlds. The non-bank majority, who are representative of a cross section of Irish society, will ensure that the voice and perspectives of the public will be heard. I believe that the changes necessary in banking culture have a far greater chance of being delivered because of, and not in spite of, the five member banks being on the board.
I am not of the banking world. So how did I come to be Chair of the IBCB?

I read an ad in the paper just over a year ago. It stated that the 5 retail banks in Ireland (Bank of Ireland, Allied Irish Banks (AIB), Ulster Bank, PTSB and KBC Bank Ireland) had resolved to establish an Irish Banking Culture Board to act as a transformative influence on culture within the banking sector focused on earning the public’s trust.

It sounded like a very good idea and not before its time. I replied to the ad.

My appointment was entirely independent of the banks. It was conducted by way of an open competition. A selection panel was chaired by Dame Colette Bowe, then Chair of the UK Banking Standards Board joined by Sir Callum McCarthy, former head of The Financial Services Authority in the UK and our own Dr Martin McAleese. I was appointed and commenced the role of Chair in January of this year.

My first task was to select and appoint the members of the Board. This selection process was again entirely independent. The criteria in my mind as I was selecting and appointing the Board, was to ensure that its membership would reflect the feedback received during the extensive public and stakeholder consultations, while remaining at a size that was manageable.

I was clear at the outset that each of the 5 founding banks had to be represented on the board by the most senior bankers. Why did I take this view? Because the banks own the problem and they must own the solution. I am convinced that it is through vigorous, open dialogue and concerted action between these senior bankers and the non-banking members of the board that true, lasting and meaningful change will occur.

The composition of the board was announced at our launch on the 15th of April this year. It is composed of 14 members (NOTE – Bios of all Board members have been provided in a separate document to the Committee)

Along with the five senior bankers, there are 7 non-banking members who represent a wide range of stakeholders in the banking sector. They reflect what we heard during the public consultation process. They are, in alphabetical order

  • Angela Black- Chief Executive, Citizens Information Board;
  • Professor Blanaid Clarke – a leading authority on corporate ethics, Trinity College Dublin;
  • Padraic Kissane – of Padraic Kissane Financial Services
  • Gareth Murphy – Head of Industrial Relations of the Financial Services Union
  • Philip O’Leary – Managing Partner, FitzGerald Legal & Advisory, Chair of the Legal Aid Board and a lifelong advocate for consumer protection;
  • Sue O’Neill – Chair of the Small Firms Association and board member of Microfinance Ireland
  • Martin Stapleton – Chair of the National Farm Business committee of The Irish Farmer’s Association. He is a dairy farmer from Limerick.

The five senior bank representatives on the Board, represent a range of different skillsets, including a CEO, CRO, COO – with IT and AI expertise, a head of Human Resources and a head of Consumer Banking.

So, what do we intend to do and why?
From the very outset we have been conscious that it was critical to ask for and, listen to, the views of societal stakeholders (including banking staff), and bank customers as regards current banking culture and how the IBCB can work to change this for the better.
During our establishment phase we conducted an extensive Public and Stakeholder Consultation. We received 747 submissions from the public via an on-line survey, and we commissioned a survey of over 25,000 bank staff. We conducted 38 face to face interviews with individuals and organisations from right across Irish society, including consumer organisations, small and large business, farmers, charities, youth groups, students, trade unions, rural interests, older customer groups, media, politicians and regulators.

Some of the members of this Committee contributed to these proceedings and we thank you for that.
Our objective in determining what the IBCB should first focus on was to reflect the concerns and suggestions we had heard from the Public, Stakeholders and Bank staff. We promised to address these concerns and that is what we are doing.

Our work programme up to April 2020 is composed of 9 key themes each of which have been identified from the findings of our public consultation. These themes are:

  • Customers in a vulnerable position;
  •  Services to Bereaved Customers;
  • Respectful & Transparent Communications;
  • Financial Awareness;
  • SMEs (including Farmers);
  • Support for Community & Society;
  • Speaking Up;
  • Embedding Ethics & Behaviour;
  • Staff Resilience & Pressures.

During our work, we will partner, as appropriate, with the expertise in our member banks, with other relevant industry bodies such as the BPFI and the Institute of Bankers as well as with other relevant bodies to achieve our aims as efficiently and transparently as possible. However, we will always be protective of our independence and our overall goal of being a trusted, independent voice and a transformative influence on banking culture in Ireland.

We will call out poor conduct when we find it and will also acknowledge good things that we can identify. The CEOs and Boards of the 5 founding member banks of the IBCB have clearly and repeatedly committed to me their full support for the board and its activities. The leadership of the banks recognise that this board is independent. We do not speak for the banks; we speak for the stakeholders of the industry. We see ourselves, in many ways, as a ‘critical friend’ to the industry. We will promote an environment in which ethical behaviour lies at the heart of banking, values are restored, and reputation for competence is rediscovered. We will hold the banks to account on their progress.
I accept the scepticism that exists in relation to this endeavour.

I am also a sceptic – It would be difficult to spend 42 years in the practice of the law without developing a healthy degree of scepticism. I have encountered a lot of very bad places and very bad people in my time as judge and barrister at home in Ireland and in Strasbourg as a judge of the Court of Human Rights. However, I have never lost my faith in human nature. I am convinced that the vast majority of Irish men and women who work in the banking industry are decent, honest, honourable people who wish to serve their customers and their country well, to be an example to their family and friends and to be proud of the work that they do as guardians of a great national interest. Our task is to help and empower them to regain public trust in the banks by pursuing the highest ethical standards, the highest levels of competence and ensuring fair and humane treatment for customers.

This is just the beginning. A long road lies ahead but I believe that we have made a good start. Identifying and changing culture is a difficult thing to do, for us and for society. We must dare to believe that we can do this. Irish society and culture have changed dramatically over the years. Bank culture must change also. People today demand better of everything, including their banks. We see ourselves as being part of this change in the banks and this change is not before its time. Embedding
ethical behaviour in banking culture is an ideal whose day has come, in Ireland and around the globe. We do dare to believe that we can do this. We can and we will.

Finally, should we be invited, I would like to return to this Committee next year to update you on our activities and to answer members questions regarding our progress. Thank you again for the opportunity to present the IBCB to the Committee this afternoon. We are very happy to take any questions that you may have.


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