Like many Australians, I did a fair bit of travelling around the country over Christmas and New Year, which involved driving thousands of kilometres across NSW, Queensland and Tasmania. The drives offered breath-taking views, but also several hair-raising instances of other drivers speeding well beyond the limit.
From a risk and return perspective, the “returns” of speeding are clear: people can get to where they want to get to faster. But the risks are also clear, and these include getting caught by a speed camera, getting caught by the police or worse, getting into an accident.
The real issue with speeding, however, occurs every time drivers get away with the risks and “earn” the returns. And the more this happens, the more speeding becomes seen as acceptable. Furthermore, given a natural human tendency to follow the herd, other drivers start having the same view on speeding and continue to put themselves and everyone else in danger.
Although there may be other factors at play, it is probably little wonder why the rate of crashes in Australia is high despite the many road rules that are in place.
My experience got me thinking about what the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry uncovered during 2018.
From a risk-and-return perspective, the returns and risks of engaging in misconduct are fairly clear. Like speeding, the real problem with misconduct occurs every time individuals get away with the risks and earn the returns. And the more this happens, and the more it is rewarded, the more misconduct becomes seen as not only acceptable but also as the better way to do things.
Then, just like speeding, being penalised for misconduct is something no one believes will happen to them. But the major downside of misconduct, like speeding, is that when things do go wrong they can go wrong very quickly, often with disastrous consequences. When those consequences become clear, the perceived benefits of the action are put into stark perspective.
While there may be other factors at play, it is probably little wonder why there were numerous instances of misconduct, big and small, identified by the royal commission, despite the various regulations that are in place. I am not criticising the regulators nor am I proposing solutions to this complex issue, which I will leave to Commissioner Ken Hayne when his final report is released on February 1. But if I were a betting man, I would expect several legal proceedings to be commenced against certain individuals. The law will have finally caught up with them.
For everyone else though, unless we all stop thinking about what we can get away with every time we act, nothing will really change in the industry and the year ahead will be just another year like all the others in financial services. And wouldn’t that be a shame after all that we went through in the last 12 months?