Professional bodies playing a role in banking


New research has concluded that the potential exists for professional bodies to play a greater role in raising levels of competence and promoting ethical behaviour in the banking sector.

The University of Leeds report, commissioned by the Banking Standards Board (BSB) and published today, identifies five key cross-sector challenges that need to be addressed in order for this potential to be fulfilled.

The BSB is calling on banks, building societies, professional bodies and other stakeholders to work together to address these challenges to the benefit of customers, clients, staff and the sector as whole.

Chris Megone, Professor of Inter-Disciplinary Applied Ethics at the University of Leeds, said: “What we were struck by during the course of our research was both the potential and the appetite of banks and building societies to work with the professional bodies to achieve positive change in levels of both technical competence and ethical behaviour. However, it is clear that the relationship between all parties needs to be redefined if this potential is to be realised.”

Banking Standards Board Chairman Colette Bowe said: “Today’s report makes clear what needs to be done to strengthen professionalism in the sector. It will take collaboration and determination from all sides to tackle these challenges but the new accountability regimes present a unique opportunity for the industry and professional bodies to raise the bar on behaviour and improve outcomes for customers. We urge them to seize it.”

Michael Cole-Fontayn, Executive Vice-President and Chairman of BNY Mellon, added: "I welcome the work the BSB and the University of Leeds have done to lay out these challenges. At the end of the day, this is about continually improving the service we provide to clients and customers. It is in the whole industry’s interest to work more closely with the professional bodies to develop and retain the best people and aim for the highest standards of service.”


The headline finding is that the potential exists for professional bodies to play a significant role in raising levels of competence and ethical behaviour in the sector. There are, however, five key cross-sector challenges that need to be addressed if this potential is to be fulfilled:

1. The low profile of professional bodies within the banking sector: The general view across banks and building societies was that professional bodies, and in particular the qualifications on offer, have poor visibility and are poorly understood, and there is not a consistent view across the sector that professional bodies are playing a valuable role.

2. The need to establish banking qualifications, or a tiered framework of qualifications, which give (and are recognised to give) a thorough grounding in the fundamentals of banking: There was a broad consensus that qualifications in banking fundamentals (both on entry to the profession and at higher levels as responsibilities increase) would be valuable and desirable for employers, employees, regulators and wider society in delineating the core competencies required of a role in banking. However, there was an equally clear consensus among banks and building societies who were surveyed that such qualifications do not currently exist.

3. The fragmentation of the professional body sector, including fragmentation in qualifications and a lack of clear pathways and links to career progression within firms: There are more than twenty bodies who provide a range of professional body services to the sector offering a plethora of qualifications. While there is relatively little overlap between them, banks and building societies find it hard to get a clear view on the range of qualifications available, the pathways between them and to judge their relative merits.

4. The relationship between banks and building societies and professional bodies is one of ‘customer and supplier’ rather than of partners forming a ‘community of interest’: The current relationship between banks andbuilding societies and professional bodies drives an imbalance of power between the two parties in this relationship which potentially limits the professional bodies’ ability to act as genuine partner organisations to firms, providing both support and constructive challenge, particularly on issues of ethics.

5. The lack of a recognised and clearly defined role for professional bodies beyond the provision of qualifications: While it appears that the banks and building societies currently see banking professional bodies as primarily purveyors of qualifications, the professional bodies themselves reported that they would like to be valued for a broader range of activities. Despite this, there was a strong perception amongst respondents from banks and building societies that professional bodies do not contribute meaningfully to raising ethical and behavioural standards.

Next steps

Collaboration, coordination and, where possible, simplification would appear to be the key ingredients for success in ensuring that professional bodies can play as full a role as possible in raising standards across the sector. Also crucial, however, is that any changes will require the strong engagement and support of both the professional bodies themselves and the banks and building societies whose staff are (or might be) their members.

The introduction of the Senior Managers and Certification Regime (SMCR) presents a unique opportunity and reason for all parties to come together. In some other jurisdictions and industries, the professional standards expected of relevant individuals are set by an external body – often a professional body and/or regulatory body. Under the Certification Regime however, no such explicit role is allocated to external bodies and judgement about whether or not relevant individuals are ‘fit and proper’ to perform their role rests with firms. This means that there is the potential for professional bodies to contribute significantly to raising standards of behaviour and competence across the sector, not only enhancing firms’ abilities to comply with the regime but also enabling the regime to achieve maximum benefit across the sector.

To help facilitate concrete next steps, the BSB proposes to establish a sector-wide working group on the future of professionalism in banking, including member firms, professional bodies in the banking sector, other training/qualification providers and subject matter experts. This working group will explore how the challenges identified in today’s report can most effectively and pragmatically be addressed and develop proposals for broader consultation.

Lady Susan Rice, BSB Board Member and Chairman of the Chartered Banker Professional Standards Board, said: “Professional bodies in recent years have brought a lot of focus to raising professional standards in banking. But we're all aware that much more can be done to enhance and realise the potential impact of these improvements. The report published today by the BSB will, I'm sure, give the industry and professional bodies renewed impetus to work together to build a genuine community of interest founded on a strong and vibrant sense of customer-focused, ethical professionalism.”

Alison Robb, Nationwide Building Society Group Director and BSB Board member, added: “Customers have a right to expect the highest levels of professionalism from their bank or building society. We welcome this report, which highlights the scope for the sector and professional bodies to work together in achieving higher standards, ultimately improving outcomes for customers. We also welcome the proposed working group on the future of professionalism in banking and look forward to contributing.”

Further information

The report, Exploring the role of professional bodies and professional qualifications in the UK banking sector, is available here:

For interviews, contact University of Leeds Senior Press Officer Guy Dixon on 0113 343 1028 or