Protecting whistleblowers in the financial services space


Employees in banking and finance are increasingly likely to use whistleblower channels to report issues of discrimination and harassment.

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

A 2020 study by Protect, the whistleblowers’ charity, found a shocking prevalence of victimization among those who report wrongdoing. Some 35% of whistleblowers said they had been attacked by management or colleagues.

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

There’s the high-profile incident featuring a Sydney-based banker at UBS who was allegedly barred from meetings after complaining of bullying and abusive behavior. This situation worsened when she was reprimanded after asking for help from the Swiss bank’s human resources department.

A problematic workspace

A study, conducted and published by Culture Shift in October 2021, found that 35% of people working in the financial sector have experienced workplace bullying, harassment or discrimination. A further 38% said a problematic work culture negatively impacted their mental health, which impacted productivity and time off.

These are disappointing results. Figures from Protect suggest some financial institutions have failed to give full effect to the FCA’s whistleblower rules, which require a proactive approach to tackling victimization.

Indeed, in 2018 the FCA reviewed the entrenchment of the rules and noted that a number of companies still needed to develop or improve their provisions regarding the protection of whistleblowers from victimization, including educating employees through better training.

This ultimately becomes an HR responsibility. As a starting point, HR teams and managers should be professionally trained to identify issues. Being able to spot when an employee is raising issues that amount to both a personal grievance and a larger whistleblower complaint. And spot when there is a pattern of similar complaints that indicates an underlying cultural/institutional problem.

Encourage a transparent culture

Encouraging whistleblowing should be part of any progressive corporate culture. It’s heartening to see so many people in banking and finance not only respect compliance, but try to make it part of their culture. Exposing and correcting wrongdoing is seen as a positive part of developing an open work culture, rewarding transparency, and doing the right thing.

However, it is disappointing to see that a culture of bullying, harassment and victimization is still prevalent in the financial sector. Although many organizations work 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 are repercussions.

Banking can be a high stakes and stressful environment and harsh language is common. In some work environments, cultures of silence still exist. In other workplaces, workers are actively encouraged not to say anything about bad behavior, instead of reporting things they find inappropriate, dangerous, harmful and stressful.

Using an external whistleblower service can help build trust within a workforce. Currently at Safecall we are working with banking and financial institutions to focus on how they should encourage complaints while protecting whistleblowers from victimisation.

The fact that a report is not escalated directly to an internal HR team or stakeholder ensures that the complainant feels comfortable raising their concerns and ensures that the finance organization is made aware of any issues. misconduct before it reaches a stage of reputational damage.

Alleviate the stress of a high octane environment

There is no doubt that financial companies and organizations that treat their employees fairly and actively adopt appropriate anti-discrimination and harassment protocols and foster a culture of speaking up will thrive and thrive, especially in a job market where it is difficult to attract and retain good people.

Companies should select a whistleblower service provider who ensures that all staff training programs clearly explain what victimization is and how perpetrators will be dealt with. There are also ways to set up regular checks with the whistleblower for up to 12 months to ensure they are not a victim.

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

About the Author: Chris Boyle is the Director of Business Development for Safecall, a whistleblower service provider launched in 1999 that helps organizations establish a safe and confidential reporting system.


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