Australians typically view real estate agents as unethical, a report suggests.
The third annual Governance Institute of Australia Ethics Index was released recently.
The study asks respondents the importance of ethical behaviour of different sectors broadly, and asks them to rate each sector.
Respondents are also requested to rate nominated occupations and organisations within each sector.
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According to the report, within key business sectors, real estate agents continue to have the lowest ethical score (26 per cent) and the highest unethical score (50 per cent).
However, this overall net score of -24 per cent is an improvement on last year when the net score was -29 per cent.
The -24 per cent places agents above state politicians (net score of -34 per cent), and federal politicians (-38).
The Governance Institute’s chief executive Steven Burrell said real estate agents “tend to have a stereotyped reputation which perhaps is perhaps not justified, certainly not in all cases”.
“What we find is this research is that there’s often quite a difference between the way that people perceive occupations as a whole, and their own personal interactions with members of those professions,” he said.
“We don’t measure the real estate agents in this respect, but there is a section in the report on ‘ethical behaviour of people in personal contact’.
“The difference between, for example, how people rank the local bank manager when they’re dealing with him on a day-to-day basis as compared to banks (overall), generally speaking there’s quite a gap.
“Same with local MPs, lawyers, accountants. People tend to rate the professionals that they’re dealing with better in ethical terms than the profession as a whole.”
Mr Burrell said while they, “don’t drill down into exactly why people perceive particular occupations or professions in that way”, some generalised conclusions could be drawn regarding the stereotypes surrounding real estate agents.
“Perhaps people’s experiences in those sorts of transactions are not always happy,” he said. “But it is a consistent finding, and these days really only politicians and bankers are challenging that bottom rung.”
By comparison, lawyers are perceived as slightly more ethical (33 per cent).
By industry, there continues to be high regard for farmers and agricultural businesses who are perceived as the most ethical (68 per cent), followed by cafes and restaurants (59 per cent).
Telecommunication companies continue to be seen as the least ethical among the industries (29 per cent ethical score and 42 per cent unethical score).
Of the membership associations, the Real Estate Institute of Australia fared better than in previous years.
The REIA received an unethical net score of 32 per cent but an ethical score of 36 per cent, with the remaining 32 per cent undecided.
This net score of four per cent is an eight-point improvement on the -4 per cent it received last year.
The banking, finance and insurance sector now has the lowest Ethics Index score of all sectors this year, dropping from -3 to -15.
Bank managers, financial planners and mortgage brokers decreased in perception compared to 2017, albeit sustaining an ethical score of 30 per cent or above.
In 2018, one in two Australians perceive life insurance companies as unethical, while pay-day lenders continue to be seen as most unethical (68 per cent).
The education sector continues to hold the highest perceived level of ethical behaviour of all the sectors, with every occupation and organisation performing at the ‘somewhat ethical’ or ‘very ethical’ level. Privately-run colleges continue to have the lowest net score.
Fire and ambulance services are rated as the most ethical occupations within the public sector (90 per cent and 88 per cent ethical score).