Consistent with our mission to bring timely and relevant research to the business ethics community, Ethical Systems has just published a new electronic resource: Under Pressure: Wells Fargo, Misconduct, Leadership and Culture [updated May 2018 to include a new Executive Summary and further details about the case]
This case study, created by Bharathy Premachandra, our 2017 Bryan Turner Intern in Business Ethics, with Azish Filabi, Executive Director of Ethical Systems, spotlights the lessons learned from the recent scandal at Wells Fargo around false accounts, inflated sales targets and misguided directives from bank executives.
When corporate scandal occurs- whether it makes headlines or not- there is a tendency to blame bad apples instead of examining the organizational culture to identify areas in need of further improvement or oversight.
In a recent piece in The Wall Street Journal, Lou Gerstner, a former chairman and CEO of IBM and RJR Nabisco, now chairman of the board of directors at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, outlines why there is continued misunderstanding around culture and the various ways companies undercut their own efforts to strengthen it.
Late last year I published a post on LinkedIn about my dissertation research on developing ethical behavior in financial institutions. I was disheartened, but not surprised, by comments such as “a losing battle” and “oxymoron,” which promulgated a deeply cynical view of ethics in the financial sector. Fast forward to the announcement last week that Wells Fargo will pay a fine of $185 million (a mere drop in the bucked for a company that generated $23 billion in profits in 2015) to settle allegations of fraud committed by thousands of its employees. It is particularly disconcerting that unethical behavior could take place on such a massive scale after years of intense post-financial crisis scrutiny and regulation.
In spite of continued ethical breaches in the financial industry, as a “scholar-practitioner” in the field of adult learning, I am firm believer in the possibility of positive human growth and transformation. And, as a 17-year veteran of the financial industry, I have had the privilege of collaborating with many outstanding people who are fully committed to “doing the right thing”—helping clients achieve their long term financial goals and to supporting the development of vibrant economies in the communities they serve. Unfortunately, I have also worked with self-serving and even mean-spirited individuals whose behaviors were, in my view, unethical. Although many of them imploded over time, it was not before creating a trail of lasting devastation.