T. S. Eliot could not have imagined how relevant these lines would be for financial services boards looking to understand and, where needed, change the culture of their organisations.
When I speak to clients about governance, culture almost invariably comes up. Fostering a positive and vibrant - but also risk aware - culture, identifying any potential problems and finding a way of dealing with them is a challenge for even the most seasoned board member. And one reason for this is that we are dealing with human behaviour.
John Sutherland, a senior adviser at the FCA, gets to the crux of the issue in his blog post: Getting to grips with culture.
The UK now has a regulatory regime which puts the spotlight on financial services firms’ culture - the Senior Managers' Regime brings culture into the boardroom and the material risk taker regime tackles the need for long‑term incentives to reduce short-term risk taking. At the same time, vast amounts of structured and unstructured data, concerning financial services firms and their people, are at the disposal of both regulators and firms.
But how can regulators and firms make sense of all this information? And how can advances in data analytics help them to do this? What non-financial behavioural drivers should they identify and monitor in organisations which may have thousands of people across a number of countries, often from different cultural backgrounds?
This highlights an increasingly important challenge faced by boards. Accountability alone is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for establishing the right culture. It will also require a deep understanding of the drivers of human behaviour. To identify and influence those drivers that matter, boards will need to find the wisdom in knowledge.