The pressure on financial services companies is growing as regulators around the world tighten the rules.
Daniel Oakley, director, knowledge management for Ernst & Young’s financial services practice
Andrew Wilson, managing partner for risk and regulatory management for North America at Accenture in New York City, agrees that financial services firms have a unique responsibility to their clients that makes adhering to corporate governance guidelines especially important. “The relationship between financial services firms and their clients is predicated on trust and integrity,” Wilson says. “If they lose that trust, they may not be able to raise capital or attract business.”
Analysts agree that financial services firms have come a long way in improving how senior management and their boards operate but say there is still plenty of room for improvement. Late last year, Ernst & Young studied the corporate governance practices of some of the largest financial services companies and found many still are failing to meet current governance standards.
The study found, for example, that Where The Buck Stops too many financial services firms are still letting the chief executive officer serve as the chairman of the board. According to David Kungl, director of financial institutions group for SNL Financial, an information and research firm in Charlottesville, Virginia, that means the opinions of board members may not carry much weight—especially in small community banks where the CEO or chairman has a strong personality.“ CEO/chairmen want things their way. Many times they won’t relinquish the day-to-day operations. It’s their little fiefdom,” Kungl adds.
As a way to counter the CEO’s weight, firms are beginning to appoint a lead director of the board. This person does not have to be the board chairman but has the responsibility and power to monitor and challenge the decisions being made by the company’s top management.