One of our most popular courses offered over the last year has been around the subject of ‘banker conduct’.  When we were first approached it appeared to be a request to do some compliance training.  However, on reflection it was more about business judgement.  The cases that we designed rarely had a simple YES / NO answer and raised the issue about what do you do when the rules can’t help you? 

To give you an example consider the following which has been adapted from Michael Sandel’s “The Moral Limits of Markets”. 

Suppose you are closing a big deal with a Canadian Banking client.  To celebrate the deal he has offered to take you on a Walrus hunt.  The Canadian government allows the domestic Inuit to shoot a certain quota each year and they are allowed to sell some of these rights to tourists.  However, the skins, tusks and blubber oil are kept by the Inuit who also earning hunting and guide fees.  Would you accept the offer?

When we pose this question in class, it often sparks some controversial discussions.  Some people find hunting of any sort abhorrent but occasionally some admit they would have no qualms about accepting.  Often the answers are a bit legalistic – ‘it would be outside the expense limits’. 

The purpose of asking the question though is to see how people come to a decision and we suggest they use a simple three step framework.

  • Is it legal? – Yes according to the Canadian government although some people argue that given that it would be expensive then it might be against corporate policy. 
  • Is it fair? – Focusing on just the raw economics, it would seem like a good deal to all sides
  • Is it right? – Hmmmm.  This is where the majority of people agree that it ‘fails the smell test’.  The most common answer is that the reputational risk associated with the event is too great.  Imagine the headline “Banker massacres Walrus in barbaric bloodbath

What would you do?

Where would you draw the line?