Taking The Pledge

In a delightful development in the Netherlands, bankers have been taking “the bankers’ oath.” Here it is in part: “I swear that I will endeavor to maintain and promote confidence in the financial sector. So help me God.”

I’m not kidding.

Chris Buijink, Chairman of the Dutch Banking Association

The oath features eight “integrity vows,” including putting clients’ interests first.

Now, that one particularly interests me. When we did extensive global market research before founding VitalBriefing, that’s exactly the first and most widespread complaint we heard from financial industry customers: ‘They don’t care about me…They’re just trying to sell me things…What they send me is useless marketing garbage that helps them, not me.”

Clearly, the Dutch industry heard them. So far, only top executives must take the pledge. Starting this year, all 90,000 of the country’s bankers are required to swear their honest intentions before their maker.

“The confidence of society in the banking industry has been shaken, and this is a way to make it clear that the lessons of the crisis have been learned,” Chris Buijink, the chairman of the Dutch Banking Association, which is leading the bankers’ oath campaign, told the New York Times. “We are renewing the way we do business, from the top of the bank to the bottom.”

Whether such an oath would work in other countries – or even in the Netherlands – is an open question. Every week, it seems like a new scandal breaks. Public trust in the sector couldn’t be much lower, and it’s a safe bet that an oath without regulatory and punitive teeth behind it is unlikely to take root.

Especially given the perception that the industry as a whole, according to a British parliamentary commission, is “morally bankrupt.”

What I like about the Dutch oath, though, is that at least it’s a recognition from within the industry that there’s a real problem. As one Rabobank executive said: “You have to change because you want to change.”

Communicating more clearly and effectively with clients – bringing them truly valuable, relevant content that guides them into the best decisions for themselves – is one key change the industry can put into play right now.

And not a moment too soon.