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Banks, mortgage brokers, real estate agents considered least ethical: 2018 Ethics Index

The banking, finance, and insurance industries were rated as the least ethical sectors in Australia following the revelations of the banking royal commission. Photo: Getty
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Bankers, real estate agents, and mortgage brokers are among the most distrusted professionals in Australia, according to a new study.

The Governance Institute of Australia’s 2018 Ethics Index suggests that Australians are increasingly concerned about unethical behaviour by banks and financial service providers in the wake of the scandalous revelations of misconduct in the banking royal commission.

The 2018 Ethics Index, released this week, shows that Australian society is less ethical in 2018 than in 2017, and is currently “operating en-masse” at a “somewhat ethical level” according to the GIA.

The annual index rates the overall importance of ethics to the Australian public, and compares it to the actual level of ethical behaviour exhibited by various industries and occupations.

The index allows Australian society to “objectively gauge whether our ethical behaviour and expectation have slipped or improved over the last year”, the GIA said.

How important are ethics to Australians?

The GIA surveyed adult Australians with a cross section of ages, political views, education, incomes, and occupations between May 25 and June 7 2018 .

Overall, the study found that Australians place a high level of importance on ethics in society, with 87 per cent rating ethics as “important or very important to a well-functioning society”.

When an ethical scenario was posed, the majority of respondents—close to 60 per cent—chose to take the “selfless option”, and safeguard the life of a child over their own.

Australia’s most and least ethical industries

The Ethics Index 2018. Source: Governance Institute of Australia

Education topped the list as Australia’s most ethical sector in 2018 with a score of 80, which is considered “very ethical”.

The health sector was the second most trusted industry with a score of 70, also considered “very ethical”, followed by charities and not-for-profit organisations with a score of 61.

However, pharmaceutical companies “continue to be incongruous with the highly rated ethical behaviour of the health sector”, the GIA said, posting a net score of -10.

The public service and government was rated as “somewhat ethical”, with a score of 43.

The media industry was  rated as “neither ethical nor unethical” with a score of 1, down from 5 the previous year.

The corporate sector was considered “somewhat unethical”, with a score of -9, down from -3 in 2017.

When it came to the most and least trusted professionals within the business sector, real estate agents continued to have the lowest ethical score at 26 per cent, and the highest unethical score at 50 per cent.

Telecommunication companies “continue to be seen as the least ethical among the industries”, according to the report, with an ethical score of 29 per cent and an unethical score of 42 per cent.

The banking, finance, and insurance industries were rated as the least ethical sectors in Australia, with a score of -15, down from -3 the previous year.

Bank managers, financial planners and mortgage brokers were viewed as less ethical in 2018 compared to the previous year, while one in two Australians perceive life insurance companies as unethical, while pay-day lenders continue to be seen as most unethical.

Issues and influences in Australia’s banking and finance sector. Source: Governance Institute of Australia

When it came to the reasons banking and finance sectors were considered unethical, executive salaries topped the list, followed by “bribery and corruption”, executive bonuses, insufficient regulation, and treatment of customers.

The ethical expectation deficit

The difference between the importance placed on ethics by the public, and the actual ethical behaviour displayed by various industries, organisations, and occupations, is termed the “ethical expectation deficit”.

The ethical expectation gap. Source: Governance Institute of Australia

“Similar to the Ethics Index, health, education and charities and not-for-profit sectors have the smallest gap between the importance of ethical behaviour and their ethical behaviour scores,” the GIA said.

“In contrast, government, banking, finance and insurance, and media sectors have the largest ethical gap.”

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