I have recently retaken an ethics test set by one of our professional bodies as part of the compulsory element of my continuing professional development.
This type of test is obviously meant to make you think. But as is so often the case with these kind of tests, I began to wonder whether they are just window dressing or a real and professionally valid attempt to influence good behaviour as part of a wider drive to improve standards.
When considering what drives basic human behaviour, it usually comes back to the eternal nature versus nurture conundrum. Is it our experience, upbringing and training, our parents and our peers that influences us more? Or is our behaviour more deeply seated within our genes?
If it's the latter that's responsible for whether we act ethically or not, then any amount of training is unlikely to have much of an effect. Good will be good and bad will be bad, depending on the circumstances at the time.
My trusty study buddy Google is crammed full of scholarly and less scholarly articles arguing back and forth about the effects of nature vs nurture when it comes to ethics.
Far be from it for me to say I have the answer. But the fact remains the question of ethics is of a huge concern to us as financial professionals, as well as having an impact on how we interact with our colleagues, our clients and our business connections.
Frankly, I'm less bothered about the much tested concept of business ethics as I believe having a personal code of ethics is much more important. Any ethical behaviour from us as individuals will then readily translate through to our business lives and activities.
I believe it's our personal responsibility to take full ownership both of our behaviours and the decisions we make. Just as importantly, we have to take responsibility for those decisions we fail to make and the consequences that may arise as a result. This includes fulfilling our commitments and promises to ourselves and to others. If we do not take this personal ownership of our decisions and activities, then we should be prepared to accept the consequences of our actions, good or bad.
We have a duty to respect ourselves, our colleagues, our clients and peers and the trust they have placed in us as individuals and professionals. This may include, but is not limited to, finances, reputation, privacy and the safeguarding of their integrity.
For me, this is what ethics is all about. We shouldn't exercise our power or position to influence the decisions or actions of others in order to benefit in any way that is not subject to critical scrutiny. We should never act in an abusive or accusatory way with others.
If conflict arises, as it invariably will in day-to-day life, then it's important to remain professional. Our actions and behaviour should be able to be assessed and judged by others to ensure any attempt to resolve matters is fair and honest. We should never make judgements or statements we are not absolutely willing to have investigated with a view to professional remedial action. Anything else, in my opinion, is both dishonest and unprofessional.
It all largely boils down to a sense of personal fairness, of decent values and being able to be objective. It's worth asking ourselves some potentially tough questions here. Can we see ourselves the way others see us? Are we thoughtful, considered and professional? Can we honestly say we have acted in the best interests of everyone involved, have followed documented procedures within our businesses, and not just in self-interest?
Are we sincere and are we really free from deceit and manipulation for personal gain? Are we attempting to disadvantage others out of anger, dishonesty or some other unprofessional motivation? One killer question to have in mind is whether we can really justify, and lay open to the scrutiny of others, our thoughts, words and deeds.
Finally, are we really doing unto others as we would have done to ourselves? The terminology might be old fashioned, but it remains absolutely relevant in both our personal and professional lives.
There are a lot of articles out there on the subject of ethics. At the very least, I hope reading this helps you just as much as taking yet another online test on business ethics.
You didn’t ask, but just so you know, I did pass the online test.