In 1982, Johnson & Johnson, one of the world’s largest consumer products companies, faced a crisis when some bottles of its painkiller, Tylenol, were found to be contaminated with poison. The company prioritized the safety of its customers, recalling 31 million bottles of the medicine. Two months later, Tylenol was back on the shelves in tamper-proof packaging. A year later, its market share was back up to 80% of its former level. It was a defining moment for Johnson & Johnson. And it remains one of the most cited cases of companies getting back on top by moving quickly and decisively to win back public trust.
Today, the financial system and its institutions similarly face a crisis of confidence in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown and various other scandals. Restoring public trust requires decisive action by financial institutions. It means putting the customer first, which in this case means every individual saving for a home or an education, every business raising capital, and every government funding pensions and social welfare programmes.
Over the past year, CEOs and senior leaders of global financial institutions, policy-makers, and customers of the financial system have come together to focus on this issue as part of the World Economic Forum’s “Role of Financial Services in Society” initiative. This group’s recently released Multistakeholder Compact articulates nine societal needs that should be prioritized by the financial system and its institutions. These are as simple, and equally as vital, as ensuring that money can be transferred or people can hold on to their savings. For the coalition of more than 50 senior leaders who contributed to drafting the compact and the many more who are expected to endorse it in the coming years, it provides a framework to prioritize the customer.
Critics of the compact will question the value of a statement. They will wonder why the financial system isn’t taking bolder action à la Johnson & Johnson. The key difference is that this issue affects an entire system, rather than just one institution. To adequately meet society’s needs, respond to the last crisis and prevent the next one, industry participants must rethink business and operating models. Policy-makers must ensure that the regulatory framework is designed to enable financial institutions to fulfil societal needs. These are not decisions to be made in one boardroom, but require many institutions to collaborate.
Taking the time now to forge a consensus on how the global financial system should evolve is the right step. If everyone shares the same language and goals – no small feat for a group with such divergent views – the foundations will be in place to build a more resilient and universally valuable financial system.
Author: Giancarlo Bruno is Senior Director, Head of Financial Services Industry at the World Economic Forum USA.
Image: Women are seen in front of a screen in the Indonesian stock exchange REUTERS/Beawhiharta.