The Directors of the CBA Bank and Comminsure would appear to have a lot to learn about basic ethics. You do not set the ethical standards for an organisation by:
- Saying ‘we are focused on ethics’,
- Confusing ethical intent with outcomes,
- Meeting with people screwed as a consequence of unethical behaviour within the organisation,
- Saying sorry and/or making belated payments years too late.
This approach is at best second rate PR and the belated payments may be necessary restitution (but rarely compensates for the pain an suffering caused by the CBA’s unethical behaviours extending over years). But none of these actions has anything to do with setting ethical standards – ethics are about doing the right thing when no one is watching and proactively correcting errors as soon as you are aware of them. Ethical standards have nothing to do with implementing a pathetic PR exercise after your extensive wrong doing has been exposed to the full glare of publicity and then only paying parsimonious compensation to a few of the victims.
The ethical standards of an organisation are set by the minimum standards of behaviour its managers condone. CBA Directors and managers have condoned highly unethical behaviours and the CBA continues to employ many of the same people who have been responsible for the creation and sustainment of this unethical culture over many years. This is a fundamental failure of organisational governance.
The only real measure of CBA and Comminsure starting to cut out the unethical rot in its management systems will be the number of people in senior management ranks fired or otherwise sanctioned for either:
- Condoning the behaviours outlined in the previous Senate enquiry and the latest ABC 4 Corners / Fairfax report, or
- For incompetence in not knowing (or not wanting to know) the unethical practices were on-going.
A number of Comminsure Directors should be resigning for exactly the same reasons!
The root cause of the Comminsure scandal highlighted over the last 24 hours is identical to the earlier CBA banking scandal (discussed in several previous posts) – CBA management designed incentive systems that paid its staff bonuses to screw their clients and inflate profits. The consequences may not have been intended but nothing was done to correct obvious problems once they became apparent, probably because the managers responsible for oversighting the behaviours were on exactly the same incentive structure. And, the bank continued to pay for behaviours that focused on short term profits over the needs of distressed clients for years. Simply leaving the same group of people who created the mess to clean it up is stupidity of the highest order.
As defined in our White Paper: The Functions of Governance, two of the most important aspects of governance are establishing (and enforcing) the ethical standards and culture of the organisation. These functions cannot be delegated for reasons outlined in Dr. Bourne’s post from last week Practical Ethics.
The question is what are the CBA Board going to do about the core problem?