Important lessons to be learned following FCA’s finding on Barclays Jess Staley attempt to unmask whistleblower, says CISI

The FCA fining of Barclays CEO Jess Staley following his attempt to unmask a whistleblower shows important lessons need to be learned, says professional body the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI).

Rebecca Aston, CISI Head of Professional Standards says: “The result – a fine (amount as-yet undisclosed, but one that could easily run into seven figures) – could be seen as rather anti-climactic, particularly considering the amount of time the investigation has taken, but there are reasons why this sanction represents a significant move forward in whistleblower protection.

This is the first time the FCA have imposed a fine on a sitting Chief Executive – so this finding will have senior leaders of other UK banks taking notice and  dusting off their firm’s whistleblowing policies! It also sends a clear message that training on whistleblowing policies within financial services organisations is essential, even (or especially) in the board room.

Finally, this finding demonstrates that the FCA are prepared to take steps to protect the sanctity of a report by any whistleblower – even if the concern they raised is not upheld.

There are lessons to be learned from this experience by the FCA, Barclays and financial services firms in general. Notably, the length of time taken for this investigation may be a cause for concern for future whistleblowers. A year for this type of investigation feels excessive, and in this case seemed to increase expectations that more severe action would be taken.

Additionally, an unseen and unknown consequence of the length of time it took to reach a finding could be that potential whistleblowers within Barclays, and financial services more generally, may have put off raising concerns (particularly if they involved senior managers) until finding out whether action was to be taken against Staley. What assurances can the FCA offer those working in financial services that it will not take so long to reach a finding if another attempt is made to unmask a whistleblower in the future?

This finding does not represent the end of this journey for Barclays, or for whistleblowing in financial services. Instead, it is the start of the next chapter – which must begin with efforts to rebuild trust in whistleblowing policies and processes. Trust in a person or a process is not a guarantee – it is constantly evolving and must be maintained. As noted by Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, in 2013 “Trust arrives on foot, but leaves in a Ferrari” (another way of putting this is that trust takes years to make, but just seconds to break).

Trust is an essential part of the relationship between professionals and their clients, so professional bodies in financial services, including the CISI, have in recent years focused on building and maintaining public trust in the services offered by their members. The CISI’s ‘Speak Up’ initiative, which focuses on giving individuals working in financial services the tips, tools and moral courage to raise concerns within their organisations, is an important part of our work to build public trust in professionals and in financial services.

In order to demonstrate that the Barclays whistleblowing process can be trusted by potential whistleblowers, Barclays must be open about the lessons they have learned and communicate what steps they are taking to ensure it will not happen again. Furthermore, this is a step that must be repeated regularly in order to maintain trust once it is built.

But these are not just lessons for Barclays. This incident has highlighted that we are all fallible, and that the importance of following proper whistleblowing procedures is a message that needs to remain visible, relevant and necessary for all individuals working within financial services.”

Author: Yash Hirani

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