In 2018 ethics became a household word in financial services, partly because of the Hayne Royal Commission which identified the unethical behaviours and cultures within the industry. While behavioural and cultural change starts with individuals, empowerment doesn’t come easy, particularly at the beginning of one’s career.

Aimed at supporting young professionals, the Banking and Financial Services Oath (BFSO) Young Ambassador Program encourages people early in their careers to adopt a strong ethical foundation in the banking and financial services industry. 

We sat down with three former BFSO alumni, Max Mennen (NAB), Michelle Lim (RBA), and Elle Griffin (CBA), to discuss the impact the program has had on them, and what ethics looks like in an industry that’s been through turmoil and has a responsibility to function above and beyond the legal requirements. 


TEC: What first drove you to apply for the BFSO program?

Max: My experience in banking up until I did the BFSO program was in a customer facing role and I was exposed to a lot of opinions about banks – why they’re flawed and their wrongdoings. And that wasn’t just from customers, that was just the general introduction that I had while working. 

The BFSO certainly aligned with me questioning these sorts of opinions that I’d heard, finding the truth to them and more so seeing how you can rectify [the behaviours that cause] those opinions. It helped me interrogate what work I was doing and how I could make it better. 

Elle: I wanted to make an impact outside of my day-to-day role and feel like I was contributing to something bigger than just the bank, but to the community. It also gave me a real responsibility to think about broader issues going into becoming a banker, that we all had a role to play in improving our profession. 

Michelle: Coming from a psychology background, I was really interested in contributing to understanding the culture and the conduct that led to all the issues discussed in the 2017 Hayne Royal Commission. I wanted to contribute to those discussions and hopefully be part of that cultural shift. 


TEC: Five years on from the Royal Commission, where do you see the role of the BFSO?

Elle: I have always strongly identified with the idea that the BFSO promotes that we are part of a profession, which means that we are more than just employees of our particular bank. Instead, being a professional means that you have competence, care and diligence about how you approach what it is that you do.  

I think that what the Hayne Royal Commission showed was that people didn’t approach banking from that kind of noble profession mindset and the BFSO fills that void for the industry. As long as people consider what we do as a profession, we’ll go a long way to avoiding those outcomes in the future. 

Max: I think the BFSO could be valued in any industry because what it mainly showed me was an insight into the value chain of what, in our case, the financial services sector provides. It has an impact on the broader economy, but certainly on everyday customers as well. It’s pretty easy to just view your job quite narrowly as the process that you play rather than looking at the impact of what you stand for and what the organisation does. It certainly gave me much better recognition for the role that financial services play and how they can do it better. 


TEC: Do you feel there’s more of an appetite for financial institutions to allow time for participating in programs like the BFSO?

Michelle: The BFSO gave me courage and made me feel empowered to lean into something that I was always interested in, which is social justice and equality and equity. It brings people that are like-minded together who are quite young and new in their career, and it gives them this sense of empowerment and courage to actually lean into what we value and what our principles are and then echo and extend that out and amplify that within our organisations and then beyond. 

When I started, five or six years ago, I was in the risk culture space and that was still quite new but now I’ve seen that space grow so much and there’s become a heavy focus into conduct and risk. I think organisations are really seeing the value of carving out dedicated time for ethical leadership and what that looks like, and mapping that back to my ethical framework for my organisation and what our purpose is. 


TEC: Has it impacted the way you behave long-term in your role?

Elle: I feel very fortunate to have done the program very early in my career because it gives you a worldview, and a really clear way to interpret who you are and the work that you do day to day working in the financial services sector. And it translates to any role that I’ve had in the past five years. It’s helped me realise that not only that you should feel comfortable to speak up, but that I’m required to speak up and I should be speaking up. 


TEC: What would you say to somebody wanting to apply to the BFSO?

Michelle: Give 110% and don’t be afraid to ask questions. And invest in the networks and relationships you’ll make. The biggest thing for me is the relationships. 

Max: I would say the impacts can be exponential and they’ll last with you. 


Applications for the 2024 BFSO Young Ambassador Program are now open until 15 March. Find out more here. 

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