Companies that want to demonstrate their dedication to fostering ethical behaviour sometimes point to the size of their headcounts in compliance and risk management positions. But that's not enough, says Stephen Shih, head of MBA career services and corporate management at the School of Business Management at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). To be effective, he adds, a real commitment to ethics must come from the top.
'When it comes to ethics and compliance, the primary issue is always about leadership,' Shih says. 'The key job of a leader is to define values and align a company's culture to support ethical behaviour. Risk management and compliance functions are critical, but they require the support of top leadership to be truly effective.'
Shih's role as head of HKUST's MBA career services gives him an overview of the mindset of future leaders on the topic of ethics and compliance. He says the feedback he has received shows that students are staunchly behind these issues.
'Our MBA students are very interested in corporate social responsibility, not just in banking but in other industries as well,' he says. 'For example, we have an active 'Net Impact' student-led club that explores ways for business to have a sustainable impact on society and the environment, not just profits.'
Students are not only learning about corporate social responsibility, they are also taking their ideas off-campus to try them out in the real world.
'Some of them are consulting to innovative organisations in this area,' Shih adds.
'For finance professionals seeking to make a positive impact on ethics and compliance, I'd encourage them to remember that they have the opportunity - and obligation - to do this in any job, and that they don't necessarily need to join a compliance team to make an impact.'