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Finance, Integrity and ethics, Opinion

Integrity revisited

I had touched upon integrity and ethics in financial services a post or two ago; I believe it bears emphasizing. I may end up boring people by this – even so, I will repeat. It is important.

The rather cursory treatment of ethics in business in the MBA course I did 12 years ago disappointed me; I had expected a little more than a list of ethical positions, beginning with a constructed caveman ethic and ending, via a whole range of different positions including utilitarianism, with a variant on Kant. This took all of 15 minutes to go through (well, maybe half an hour). Quite a condensation of 20,000 years of ethical thought and practice.

The rest of the programme in ethical business shifted to a treatment of organisations like Body Shop, essentially looking at what now gets called “corporate social responsibility”. Don’t get me wrong, these are good and useful initiatives. But they miss the point: ethics at its most essential is how people deal with people. Business, a part of society and a nexus of human interaction, is a part of that. Ethics in business is therefore no different to ethics anywhere else in life.

Thus I would have wanted to see a discussion of the sort of decision making that goes into the way employers treat employees, for example. Similarly, the way employees behave towards their employers. A vast number of other situations will undoubtedly spring to mind. This would fall under the general class of practical ethics – and really would not seek to impart hard and fast rules but the ability to work through the issues, reach a decision and, especially if it turns out to be the wrong one, to learn from that mistake and do better next time round.

Talking to friends still involved in providing business education, including an MBA programme, I recently found that the situation has not really changed much. Hence I was very pleasantly surprised to find myself meeting a man who runs a programme to help people develop integrity.

The organisation is the UK’s Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (you can find them at http://www.cisi.org), with their Integrity Matters. Simon Culhane, their CEO, was in Malta to introduce the Integrity Matters programme to Maltese practitioners. He set out a few difficult situations, then got his audience to discuss the options. Finally, he asked participants, in groups of two, to reach a decision and vote jointly.

This is the sort of education/training that really can help people move towards a more ethical pattern of behaviour, one that involves thought, commitment and the exercise of choice.

I was unfortunately unable to attend myself. However, friends of mine did go – too few, sadly. The reaction of those that made it was very good: this was, they told me, a very useful (and enjoyable) exercise.

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