Today saw the publication of a recent Which? consumer survey, ranking different professions by the amount of trust they engender amongst the general public. No great surprise to find the top three slots occupied by nurses, doctors and teachers, with bankers, journalists and politicians scrabbling for the bottom three places.
The financial crisis beginning in 2008 and events that have surfaced in its wake (bankers’ bonuses and the LIBOR scandal for starters), have meant that banking has become an uncomfortable sector to work in. The word ‘banker’ has become widely accepted as a term of abuse and the former stereotype of banking as a respectable, if somewhat staid, occupation has been replaced by associations of reckless greed, corruption and exploitation.
The key issue that this survey has raised is, of course, the role of trust in professional life. Over time the list of what constitutes a profession has grown exponentially; no longer the preserve of divinity, law and medicine, all manner of occupations nowadays badge themselves with professional status, often evidenced by mastery of a specialised body of knowledge and with their conduct regulated by a recognised professional body empowered by statute. In other words, pass the exams, pay the joining fee and you’re in the club.
What this of course brings home is that being able to call yourself a professional is one thing, but behaving like one is something else entirely. When we use ‘professional’ as a descriptor, our skills, expertise and the quality of our work are only part of the story, and more important is to follow the implicit code of behaviour that the title confers.
The global marketplace abounds with people offering themselves as professionals in their particular field. Perhaps the word has become too commonplace as a way of advertising competence, when it is how we conduct ourselves that earns us respect and trust.