Nick Child, Head of Product Advisory Board, Fonetic

Technology can help mend the reputation of investment banking as it tries to shake off the negative aspects of its ‘boys club’ image, an expert in voice analysis solutions has claimed.

“The banking industry is grappling with many ingrained stereotypes,” said Nick Child, Head of Product Advisory Board, Fonetic, referring to the sector’s association in the minds of many with sexist and homophobic office chat. “Currently, stereotypes are so entrenched that a change in perception and indeed, behaviour, is going to take a lot more than a change in human attitude. This has been thrown into the spotlight by recent lawsuits against financial giants like UBS. While the industry has done much to try and reform its image in recent years, these incidents suggest banking’s image problems have far from gone away.”

Child argues that the knock-on effect from negative publicity stemming from poor employee behaviour is damaging on several levels: “Not only can it result in hefty fines and legal fees, but it can also cause long-lasting reputational damage to banks, which act as a deterrent both to an increasingly ethically-minded investor and to the next generation looking to start a career in finance,” he claims. “There is no question financial institutions face an uphill struggle. However, this is no longer a battle that they have to fight alone.”

Previously, said Child, traders hoping to get away with inappropriate workplace ‘banter’ could have done so without much effort: “This was largely due to the rudimentary practices that many institutions had in place,” he added. “Inappropriate, or even illegal, conversations held over the phone or sent as voice attachments to emails, could easily slip under the noses of human resources and compliance departments, who only had the systems in place to collect random voice samples, rather than monitoring conversations in-depth.”

In contrast, the surveillance systems available now mean that the sector has more sophisticated means than ever of identifying and preventing incidents of inappropriate behaviour, concluded Child: “Technology has evolved beyond just detecting keywords and terminology, it can gather context from whether words have been used within a certain proximity to others or if a variation of the root word is used,” he said. “Following that, Natural Language Processing can then classify the communications based on what they are saying, and put them in context rather than just identifying the words in isolation. As a result, where workplace culture and harassment may have once been difficult to monitor for, technology has given us the means to directly point to incidents where inappropriate conversations take place over any medium of chat.”

Financial institutions, he added, now have the opportunity to create a workplace which is safe and welcoming to all, and have the systems in place to hold themselves and their employees accountable.

by Guy Matthews