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What constitutes a profession?

At our core, we are looking to promote retail banking as a recognised profession - but what exactly defines a profession?

Lord Benson defined his principles for what constitutes a profession in a parliamentary debate in 1992, by stating that obligations to the public by any profession "are the foundation on which all professions must be built and on which their futures depend.". Lord Benson's principles are as relevant now as they were back in 1992 as the Financial Services industry goes through a paradigmatic shift.

Lord Benson's nine obligations to the public are:

  • The profession must be controlled by a governing body which in professional matters directs the behaviour of its members. For their part the members have a responsibility to subordinate their selfish private interests in favour of support for the governing body.
  • The governing body must set adequate standards of education as a condition of entry and thereafter ensure that students obtain an acceptable standard of professional competence. Training and education do not stop at qualification. They must continue throughout the member's professional life.
  • The governing body must set the ethical rules and professional standards which are to be observed by the members. They should be higher than those established by the general law.
  • The rules and standards enforced by the governing body should be designed for the benefit of the public and not for the private advantage of the members.
  • The governing body must take disciplinary action, including, if necessary, expulsion from 1209 membership should the rules and standards it lays down not be observed or should a member be guilty of bad professional work.
  • Work is often reserved to a profession by statute —not because it was for the advantage of the members but because, for the protection of the public, it should be carried out only by persons with the requisite training, standards and disciplines.
  • The governing body must satisfy itself that there is fair and open competition in the practice of the profession so that the public are not at risk of being exploited. It follows that members in practice must give information to the public about their experience, competence, capacity to do the work and the fees payable.
  • The members of the profession, whether in practice or in employment, must be independent in thought and outlook. They must be willing to speak their minds without fear or favour. They must not allow themselves to be put under the control or dominance of any person or organisation which could impair that independence.
  • In its specific field of learning a profession must give leadership to the public it serves.

Some of these core obligations can be easily forgotten in a world where commercial targets often take priority, but retail bankers, like accountants, lawyers and doctors, are there to serve the public and cannot forget their obligations.

By developing a certified professional standard and committing our candidates to the Retail Bankers Oath, we're developing the next generation of Retail Bankers who understand the importance of their professional integrity and public obligations.

In the same debate, Lord Benson addressed the issues of diversity within certain professions, calling on members to be judged only on their professional capability. By formalising the standards for retail banking with our Certified Retail Banker qualification, we aim to achieve the same goal, giving both retail banks and retail bankers a clear indication of professional capability.

"I believe that in every profession the citizens should be allowed to join irrespective of colour, creed, class or money. Several of the professions have not been able to achieve that. I believe that they should direct their attention to it very carefully. We have only one bar in my profession and that is this: the standards we set require a certain quality of intellect before a member can join. He must also be subjected to a proper educational and training standard which we have defined. We can do nothing about intellectual capacity because that is a matter for nature. But the training and education which are needed, not for our benefit but for that of the public before we can admit anybody to a profession, must be dealt with in the schools and universities. We have found grave defects in some of those fields which prevent members of the public from joining our profession."

- Lord Benson, HL Deb 08 July 1992 vol 538 cc1198-234

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