Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut.

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One of my favourite lines from one of my favourite Movies.  First time I saw it I didn’t get the cynical and tautological nature of this quote; the second edict implies the first.

Both of these statements could be true for organised crime.  For financial institutions, only the second is valid, whilst at best the first is based on a false premise of the definition of “Friendship” and at worst it is unassailably false.

Always Keep Your Mouth Shut

When you work in a financial institution, you’ll be exposed to a plethora of information.  This information could be given to you in confidence by a client, a peer or a colleague.  The default position, in the spirit of English Law (which governs a material percentage  of financial business), is that the information is deemed to be confidential.

There is no reason to disseminate such information to others unless they need to know.  Whilst I think it is laudable for a sovereign state to promote the notion of free speech and expression, you and I are not free to indulge that info by appealing to  that ostensible inalienable right at the workplace (or even outside in some sense).  That doesn’t diminish the cherished right you have from living in a free society; it simply means you chose to undertake to adhere to some simple and commonsensical rules laid out by your employer about not blabbing info.  If you want to blab at the water cooler or your local pub, talk about your favourite celebrity or someone else remote to the business.

If you are within a Chinese Wall-ed division, and you receive confidential information from someone external to your firm, only communicate info that is absolutely necessary for those outside of the wall to do their business.  Anything more can cause problems.

Example:  You receive a bunch of information. You process it. You decide, within your delegation, to refuse investing in, or transacting with or buying the services of the said entity.  A stakeholder outside of the Wall with interests linked to the successful approval of the entity approaches you and asks for info.  You say it’s a no go. He/She says why and wants details.  You budge and the stakeholder is a quasi-friend with whom you knock back a few pints at the weekend.  Boom.  Stress. Computers and phones monitored.  Compliance interviews.   Loss of hours of work lost. Accusations.  No fun during summer vacation, as you are pinned to your blackberry for news.  That’s the best case, and I’m giving a stick vs. carrot argument.

There is  a limit to what you should divulge and if you are unsure, contact your manager and your local compliance department.  If you blab, one scenario is you give a bunch of trinkets of info (a smattering of purely confidential information and your firm’s final assessment) to the stakeholder, and the stakeholder blabs the information to individuals outside of the organisation.  It gets back to the target entity. At  best, someone accuses the firm of libel. This can be an organisational nightmare, which could lead to paranoia, lost efficiencies and finger pointing.  And lost reputation.  At worst, it is tipping off in respect of a true issue linked to inappropriate or even criminal activity.  Tipping off is illegal and subject to severe penalties/incarceration in all jurisdictions administered by competent regulatory and judicial authorities, as far as I’m aware.

Never Rat On Your Friends

Well, your colleagues are your colleagues. They may be friends as well, but first and foremost they are colleagues.  If you see someone in your firm doing anything that is against global policies and procedures, you need to follow procedure to disclose that information. Sorry “friends”, that’s the way it is.  Sounds brutally simple, but at the end of the day, if your firm is exposed, YOU are exposed.

My view on both of these points is the following:  the hierarchy of ethics might seem to be Jurisdiction->Company->Department->Manager->You.  That is to say, there is a trivial way to look at it in the sense of “Oh, I don’t want to get into trouble with law, followed by, Oh, I don’t want to get fired, followed by, I don’t want a bad name in my department etc”.  Turn that around.  Start with what is right from an ethical perspective- You interacting with the world in an honest manner.  Your own rules of engagement with your organisation should have the integrity that matches and possibly exceeds that of your manager, department, employer and jurisdiction.


Marc Nunes

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