All organisations need to embed a culture of openness which starts with clear policies.
We frequently warn clients that a stigma continues to attach to those that blow the whistle. The FCA investigation into Jes Staley, CEO of Barclays Bank from 2015 to 2021, provides some illumination into how some within financial services continue to view whistleblowers.
In 2018, the UK’s FCA found that Mr Staley had broken rules of conduct by seeking to unmask a whistleblower whilst CEO of Barclays Bank. Although Mr Staley was fined £642,000 by the FCA and forced to repay £500,000 in bonuses, the FCA stopped short of concluding that he lacked integrity which would have ended his career. In addition, Barclays itself did not terminate Mr Staley’s employment. Many at the time concluded that, in the first big test of the FCA’s approach to whistleblowing, it was unjust that a chief executive who tried to identify a whistleblower had been allowed to keep his job.
Our experiences of advising whistleblowers highlights that a view of whistleblowers as troublemakers persists within some financial services organisations.
All organisations need to embed a culture of openness. That starts with clear policies (which aren’t buried in handbooks), but also requires ongoing training at every level of an organisation so that managers listen when concerns are raised (and know how best to escalate such concerns) and all staff are encouraged to raise concerns without fear of retribution.
An important rule requires firms to appoint a whistleblowers’ champion to ensure senior management oversight over the firm’s whistleblowing arrangements.
¹Sherron Watkins’ memos warning company chairman Ken Lay about accounting irregularities were buried as Enron worked out how to fire her.
²FBI Agent Coleen Rowley criticised the FBI for ignoring and mishandling information provided to it in the lead up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
³WorldCom VP Cynthia Cooper told the company’s board about nearly $4 billion in accounting irregularities.