As prime movers of a country’s economy, financial institutions thrive on public trust and confidence. Individuals and organizations entrust the safekeeping of their money to banks that also provide loans to support the growth and viability of business enterprises. At all times — with or without a pandemic — the stability of banks and financial institutions rests importantly on their ability to assure their customers and depositors of their competence and adherence to ethical management.
The Governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) spoke recently on these important principles after the issuance last month of Circular 1114 that spelled out guidelines on reputational risk management. Four years ago, the BSP directed the financial institutions under its supervision to put in place risk management processes and infrastructure, and appoint a Chief Risk Officer reporting to a risk oversight committee, or to the board of directors.
The focal point of reputational risk management is to guard against “the risk to earnings, capital and liquidity arising from negative perception” of customers, shareholders, investors, employees, market analysts, the media and other stakeholders such as regulators, that can adversely affect the institution’s “ability to maintain existing business relationships, establish new businesses or partnerships, or continuously access varied sources of funding.”
How do “negative perceptions” arise? In a world in which “fake news” has become commonplace, lies and misinformation are spread instantaneously. The BSP includes “the media” as being among the key sectors affected even if, on the flipside, it is a sector that could initiate or spread negative perceptions. “The media” does not only pertain to established newspapers or television channels. Social media including Facebook and Twitter have become the most pervasive and ubiquitous information outlets. By mere touch of a fingertip, an individual could be — wittingly or unwittingly — a spreader of false information.
From a broader perspective, ethical management and good governance are vital pillars in building and maintaining a good reputation. Aside from the BSP, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has also actively espoused the principles of sound risk management in its efforts to enhance the competitiveness of the capital market and protect the investing public.
Financial institutions are expected to attract and retain officers and employees who would abide by high standards of personal conduct. Aside from cultivating good customer relations, they are expected to abide by established norms and procedures in all business transactions. Disturbing news about large-scale financial scams invariably include telltale revelations on collusion between bank insiders and criminal elements.
The rapid pace of digitalization of banking and financial transactions adds another layer of complexity. Unscrupulous elements continue to thrive. Utmost vigilance is needed to expose and exclude them from the mainstream and prevent them from inflicting large-scale fraud upon the uninformed.
The Bangko Sentral Governor’s statement rings with unmistakable clarity: “A well-established reputation enables banks and other financial institutions to strengthen their market position, increase their market value, and to attract and retain talents.”