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Ethical Dilemma

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ETHICAL DILEMMA
Business Ethics

BACKGROUND

I am an Account Officer at a bank (Corporate Banking Department), in charge of managing corporate accounts, all of which are Japanese companies. In one of my meetings, the client personally submitted an original application for online banking to me. There was no receiving copy.

After going back to the office, I forwarded to my assistant for processing. My assistant, who has also become my friend over time, is well known for numerous errors and oversights.

During the same week, we were cleaning up our area and shredding unnecessary and old documents. After a few weeks, the application was already missing.

After finding out that the documents were missing, I was faced with the dilemma of either completely blaming my assistant as solely accountable for losing the documents or taking responsibility for my subordinate and informing my boss that our team lost the document.

FACTS

A. An original application form was personally submitted to me by a client with no receiving copy. After going back to the office, I forwarded to my assistant for processing. Since I got back late in the afternoon, the documents were included in our logbook for “Overnight Pending Items” which were kept at our main vault.

B. My assistant is known for making a lot of errors and oversights. She has been assigned to different Account Officers and all of them complained that they were having a hard time managing her due to a lot of mistakes. All of her tasks, even simple ones, has to be checked carefully especially those involving the clients.

C. My assistant has become my close friend even outside of the office. We go to dinner often, share the same hobbies like badminton, mountain climbing and running. We also confide in each other about our personal lives and she’s like a sister to me already.

D. During the same week, we were cleaning up our area and shredding unnecessary and old documents.

E. Processing of online banking application takes around 3 weeks to complete. It was found out that the documents were missing after about 4 weeks when I was following up from our Operations Department (BOD). According to them, they did not receive any application for processing. There were also no receiving copy of the “Document Checklist” that will serve as proof that the application was indeed forwarded to BOD.

F. The application forms contain customer information including company name and address, account numbers and name of signatories. In our bank, information security is very important.

Our company has certain rules regarding proper handling of customer information. We are very particular in maintaining the confidentiality of all information obtained from our day to day interaction with the clients.

To illustrate how strict the rules are, take for example the normal way of sending external emails. All external emails are to be approved by an officer with a higher rank/position than the sender. No customer information should be included in the body of the email. If it is unavoidable, all client information are to be saved in a Word, Excel or PDF file. These files should always be encrypted with a password. And the password should be sent on a separate email.

ASSUMPTIONS

A. The application was accidentally shredded. During the week when the application was submitted, we were cleaning up our area. There was a big box with lots of old and unnecessary documents for shredding. It might have been included there by mistake.

B. My boss will be angry if he finds out we lost an original document from a client. He knows how important it is for Japanese companies to maintain information security. And since it is the bank’s fault, my boss and our Deputy General Manager (executive) have to visit the client to personally apologize for our negligence, which is really embarrassing.

C. If I take responsibility, my performance rating may be affected. Ever since I joined the bank 2 years ago, my performance rating every term (6 month period) has been exceptional. This situation will be treated as an “Operational Incident” and has to be reported to our Head Office which will affect our overall Balance Score Card (BSC). Our branch will incur deductions in our BSC and will have an effect on our ranking with other Asian overseas branches.

D. If I blame my assistant, I may lose not only her loyalty as my subordinate, but her friendship as well.

E. If I deny from the client that I received the original application forms, I will lose my integrity and the client will no longer trust us and we will eventually lose their business. The company also has affiliates in the Phils. which are existing clients of the bank too. Aside from that, their parent company in Japan and other affiliates around the world are existing clients of our head office and overseas branches. If they found out, our bank’s reputation may be tarnished.

STAKEHOLDERS

A. Me B. My assistant C. My boss D. My company and its reputation E. My client

COMPETING VALUES

SELF-PRESERVATION vs. RESPONSIBILITY

If I tell my boss that my assistant lost the document, I will not be at fault and she’ll suffer the consequences. However, I am also responsible for my subordinate and I cannot neglect her.

LOYALTY AND FRIENDSHIP vs. CAREER

If I blame my assistant, I may lose her loyalty as a subordinate and her friendship as well. But if I take responsibility, it may affect my career since my performance rating may be pulled down.

INTEGRITY vs. CLIENT’S TRUST

Since there is no receiving copy, I can deny that I received the original application. However, I will lose my integrity and the client will not trust me anymore and subsequently lose their business. Since the client has other affiliated companies which are also our existing client, they may also know about it and we may lose their business as well.

OPTIONS AVAILABLE

A. Blame assistant for losing the original document and rat her out to our boss.

B. Take responsibility for my subordinate’s actions and inform my boss that our team lost the original application forms.

C. Deny receiving the documents since there is no receiving copy and in so doing, lose my client’s trust. This option crossed my mind because if I take the case of local banks, when they lose original application forms, they will just request for another one (based on experience).

DECISION / CONCLUSION

Making a decision is very hard. Although one of my options is to deny receiving the original application forms, I think it may backfire on me. The client may strongly complain to my boss and I’ll be in trouble since there is proof that we indeed received the documents as evidenced by the record on the Overnight Pending Items. My boss may not trust me anymore since it will be obvious that I intended to keep the problem to myself when it may largely affect the bank’s reputation. I value my integrity, I don’t want to do things that are in bad faith. I will definitely lose my self-respect, so I crossed out this option.

The two remaining options are the ones I had a hard time choosing. Should I blame my assistant or should I take responsibility for my subordinate? I was very tempted to choose the former because it is not the first time that she overlooked something or made a serious mistake on something very simple. A lot of those problems would have been avoided if she have been careful or remained focused on her tasks. It is so frustrating that I have to fix all those problems that are caused by her negligence. Especially if I have to apologize or explain to the client.

Choosing the latter option is also hard since my boss will surely scold me and may even tell me that I am not managing my subordinate well. Which I think is unfair since this is a very simple task and does not necessitate strict supervision from an Account Officer. It’s just a matter of forwarding the documents to the appropriate department. And even if my assistant made a mistake, I still have to defend and support her.

It may also affect my performance rating, something that I worked hard for in maintaining high scores for the past 2 years. My track record may be ruined, and it will be very annoying that it is due to the negligence of others.

However, if I did not care for my assistant, I would have easily chosen the latter. But, I think it will make her feel betrayed if I will blame her and report her to my boss. I can’t neglect her. I don’t want to be that kind of boss who will abandon her subordinates at the first sign of trouble or hardship. We are a team and we have to help each other.

After taking everything in consideration, I decided to take responsibility and inform our boss. I care for my subordinate and I also value my friendship with her. Should my rating be affected, I will just compensate on the next term.

END.

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