Protecting Whistleblowers in the Financial Services Space

By Chris Boyle
Chris Boyle is the Business Development Manager, Safecall, says its essential the the anonymity of whistleblowers

Employees within the banking and finance sector are increasingly likely to use whistleblowing channels to report concerns about discrimination and harassment.

With such a growing trend, employers should ensure that HR teams and managers are trained in whistleblowing and are able to respond appropriately when a matter is raised.

A study produced in 2020 by Protect, the whistleblowers’ charity, revealed a shockingly high prevalence of victimisation among those reporting wrongdoing. Some 35% of whistleblowers reported they were victimised by management or co-workers. 

The research also showed that when the victimisation was reported to the employer, more than half (58%) took no action and almost a quarter rejected the complaint.

There is the well-publicised incident featuring a Sydney-based female banker at UBS who was allegedly frozen out of meetings after complaining about bullying and abusive behaviour. This situation was compounded when she was reprimanded after she sought help from the Swiss bank’s HR department. 

A problematic workspace 

A study, conducted and published by Culture Shift in October 2021, revealed 35% of those working in the financial industry have experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination in the workplace. A further 38% said a problematic workplace culture had detrimentally impacted their mental health impacting on productivity and time off work.

These are disappointing findings. The figures from Protect suggest a failure by some financial institutions to give full effect to the FCA Whistleblowing Rules, which demand a proactive approach to tackling victimisation.

Indeed, in 2018, the FCA reviewed how the rules were bedding in and noted that a number of businesses still needed to develop or enhance their arrangements regarding protecting whistleblowers from victimisation, especially by educating employees through better training.

This ultimately becomes a HR responsibility. As a starting point HR teams and managers need to be professionally trained to identify problems. Be able to spot when an employee raises issues which amount to both a personal grievance and a wider whistleblowing complaint. And spot when there is a pattern of similar complaints which indicates an underlying cultural / institutional problem.

Encouraging a transparent culture

Encouraging whistleblowing should be part of any progressive business culture. It’s heartening to see so many across the banking and financial sector not just following compliance but trying to embed it within their culture. Highlighting and correcting wrongdoing are seen as positives to developing an open working culture, rewarding transparency and doing the right thing.

However, it’s disappointing to see that a culture of bullying, harassment and victimisation is still prevalent in the financial industry. Although many organisations are working tirelessly to put policies and procedures in place to combat this many employees do not feel comfortable raising these issues internally as they fear the report will be dismissed or there will be repercussions.

Banking can be a high-stakes, stressful environment and harsh language is common. In some work environments cultures of silence still exist. In other workplaces workers are actively encouraged to say nothing about bad behaviour, instead of reporting things they find inappropriate, hazardous, harmful and stressful.

Using an external whistleblowing service can help build trust and confidence among a workforce. Currently at Safecall, we work with banking and financial institutions to focus on how they should encourage complaints while also protecting whistleblowers from victimisation. 

The fact a report is not raised directly to an internal HR team / stakeholder ensures the complainant feels comfortable raising their concerns, and ensures the financial organisation is made aware of any issues of misconduct before it reaches a stage of reputational damage.

Easing the stress of a high octane environment

There is little doubt that those financial companies and organisations that treat their employees fairly and actively adopt the appropriate anti-discrimination and harassment protocols and foster a speak-up culture will thrive and flourish – especially in an employment market where it’s hard to attract and retain good people.

Companies should select a whistleblowing service provider that ensures all staff training programmes clearly explain what victimisation is and how perpetrators will be dealt with. There are also ways to put in place regular check-ins with the whistleblower for up to 12 months to ensure they are not being victimised.

It is also recommended that financial employers regularly benchmark their internal procedures against the FCA Whistleblowing Rules and ensure complaints are not ignored and feedback is provided to whistleblowers where possible.

About the author: Chris Boyle is the Business Development Manager, Safecall, a whistleblowing service provider launched in 1999 that helps organisations establish a safe and confidential reporting system.


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