Banker’s oath gives the bank sharpened focus

Directors and supervisory directors of financial institutions in the Netherlands have been required to take the banker’s oath from 1 January 2013. By taking this oath, they promise among other things that they will carry out their position in good faith and will properly weigh the interests of all concerned, including customers, employees and society.

The text of the oath is actually a reconfirmation of the values Rabobank established decades ago. ‘We, the employees and directors of Rabobank, opt to make customers’ interests our starting point and objective,’ is included in the bank’s mission statement for example. Dirk Duijzer, Director of Cooperative Affairs and Sustainability at Rabobank: ‘The oath fits in seamlessly with our core values and the way in which we have viewed our customers for more than a century. We are here for customers and not the other way around.’

Personal accountability

The process of taking the oath is fully underway at the Rabobank organisation, which comprises 136 Local Banks, Rabobank and the subsidiaries. Each Local Rabobank selects its own moment for taking the oath. The Management Team and Local Supervisory Board at Rabobank Assen-Beilen took the oath in front of customers, employees and even the press. Chairman of the Board of Directors Arie van der Spek: ‘I am not promising anything new; I see the oath as a reconfirmation of my conduct. Taking the oath in public does, however, give it additional significance. My customers hear me take the oath and can hold me to account personally. That sharpens my focus: this is the heart of the matter. I think that is why the oath is good news.’

Putting them into practice every day

A proposal for a code of conduct for the banking sector that includes a banker’s oath for all employees is currently being developed at the level of the Dutch Banking Association (NVB). Dirk Duijzer emphasises that the oath is more than merely a ceremonial occasion. ‘You can only keep values within the organisation alive by repeating them and referring to them. We already do this through our Ethics Committee that tests concrete issues against our values. We are now going to involve those values more expressly in our processes. Core values are only values if you put them into practice every day.’

Duijzer says customers can hold the bank directly accountable for its values: ‘It is entirely legitimate for customers to make reference to our organisation’s values. Customers’ interests must be put first, but that does not incidentally mean that the customer is always right. There will always be times when we will have to say, “That financing is not in your interests,” but we must then also explain why. You cannot suffice by just saying, “This is our decision.” If customers experience the bank as a bastion that makes decisions about them, then we would not be doing justice to our core values and customers would justifiably find that unacceptable.’