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Clare Payne

What's in a word?

What’s in a word?
A look at the words that make up The Banking and Finance Oath
By Clare Payne
Some may ask how much one’s word is really worth. When some look at The Banking and Finance Oath and critique the initiative, they ask, ‘Can it really do anything?’ It’s just words after all.
The fact is that words may be the most powerful thing we have. Our significant moments are marked by words. The focus of a wedding ceremony is the vows, words planned and spoken. When a lawyer is admitted to practice they are ‘sworn in’. When international summits are held, it’s the words that form the binding accords, alliances and compacts.
The final line of The Banking and Finance Oath, ‘My word is my bond’ is a promise that recognises the significance of the word and the actions that bind it.
Each word of The Banking and Finance Oath was thought through, discussed and in some instances debated. All inclusions are deliberate.
A simple word can gain significance when placed. For example, the first Commitment of the Oath, ‘I will serve all interests in good faith,’ the inclusion of ‘all’ is significant, without it this Commitment would have a completely different meaning. A simple omission could have narrowed the concept of stakeholders and significantly weakened The Oath.
Other words of The Oath stand out. ‘Sustainable future’ for example. Sustainability for some means the environment and all things ‘green’, however its inclusion in The Oath harks back to the original use, of being able to be maintained as well as upheld and defended. Surely we can all agree we want that.
Some words may seem ill placed, honour for example. Respect is probably more commonly used today, however honour hints at something more. It’s more emotive, more esteemed. The Oxford Dictionary includes the following in the definition of honour, ‘’It’s the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right.’ Ill placed in The Banking and Finance Oath? Certainly not.
Many know the power of words, especially those wrongly placed. In the field of drug education the term ‘party drugs’ presents a point of frustration, they’re drugs, as simple as that.
At times words can mislead, on explaining to my young nephew that a credit card actually put you in debt whilst a debit card was your own money led to an expression of confusion. ‘But it’s the wrong way around!’ he claimed. Words selected to achieve a certain outcome? Perhaps, or a legacy of product development?
Either way, words are powerful in how they make us act and feel. Significantly words live up to their meaning only when our actions match. This parents know only to well when they declare, ‘No means no!
Whilst the Banking and Finance Industry is undoubtedly focused on the numbers, The Banking and Finance Oath gives us an opportunity to acknowledge that words matter too.
The Banking and Finance Oath is an online initiative, become a Signatory here: www.thebfo.org
The Oath
Trust is the foundation of my profession
I will serve all interests in good faith
I will compete with honour
I will pursue my ends with ethical restraint
I will help create a sustainable future
I will help create a more just society
I will speak out against wrongdoing and support others who do the same
I will accept responsibility for my actions
In these and all other matters:
My word is my bond.
Clare Payne is an ethics advisor currently holding the position of Consulting Fellow with the St James Ethics Centre whilst privately consulting to a range of organisations. Clare previously managed the Integrity Office of Macquarie Bank and founded The Banking and Finance Oath.
Clare was recently recognised as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, she is also a Vincent Fairfax Fellow for Ethics in Leadership and was awarded the Inaugural Robin Cosgrove Prize for Ethics in Finance, Geneva. In 2011 Clare was nominated in the FINSIA Pinnacle Awards category for ‘Most Outstanding Thought Leader’ in Financial Services.
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