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Facing an ethical dilemma

Published on Thursday, 18 Nov 2010
Illustration: Bay Leung
Ariel Woo
Citi management associate
Sam Ho
Citi management associate
Shi Xiaonan
Citi analyst

One of the lessons learned from the global financial crisis was the importance of business ethics. As a result, many banks are looking for recruits with good character.

"Following the 'financial tsunami', the business community and society have been awakened to the importance of ethics," says Lee Kam-hon, professor of marketing at Chinese University.

He says bankers and businesspeople often face "temptation" at work, and that effective regulation will depend on a holistic framework that will encourage long-term commitment to ethical conduct.

John Hulpke, adjunct professor of management at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology business school, has devised a model for students to handle ethical dilemmas.

The scheme offers seven yardsticks - justice (are people following the same rules?), utilitarianism (do good outcomes outweigh the bad?), spiritual values (are you doing to others as you would want them to do to you?), TV rule (can you explain what you did on TV?), influence (what influence would your action have?), core values (do you place human life, honesty and trust above power and job security?), and emergency (is the situation a true emergency?).

Hulpke says if yes is the answer to any three of the questions, then the action is probably ethical. 

To foster an ethical culture, Citi Hong Kong has introduced an innovative way of cultivating core banking and finance values, such as building relationships based on trust and integrity, and demonstrating genuine care for clients. Citi staff members gather every morning or several times a week in a 15- to 20-minute session known as a "huddle", during which everyone takes turn to host and discuss a core company value.

"This is to help staff earn clients' trust by understanding [the latter's] needs in order to deliver appropriate solutions to help them be successful," says Maisie Lam, country human resources officer at Citi Hong Kong.

Management associate Ariel Woo finds the activity inspiring. "My department - cards and unsecured lending - looks at `daily huddling' as an important routine every morning. Everyone airs their views on the core value or shares related experiences."

In Hong Kong, business schools are also paying more attention to the issue of corporate social responsibility. Master's of business administration students at Chinese University run an annual conference on the issue.

Lee says the general progress of learning about ethics has been relatively slow. "Our understanding of business ethics has to grow together with the business momentum. [But] the current pace of [global] business development has outgrown our understanding of business ethics. We should do better in research and teaching in this area."


Daily huddle is reminder that the interests of clients come above all else

Ariel Woo, Citi management associate, on the daily huddle: "It brings the team together for a casual discussion [on issues] related to values. This boosts team spirit and I get to know my colleagues better. Also, it is a daily reminder to keep client excellence at heart at all times."

Sam Ho, Citi management associate seconded to Shanghai: "Being involved in strategy and management accounting, I must ensure the accuracy of the data and maintain an objective stance. [We must] deliver a solution in the best interest of the client."

Shi Xiaonan, Citi analyst: "As we have access to sensitive internal info, [we must] keep the information confidential and never make use of it for one's personal benefit. Also, always maximise the interest of our client and be responsible for every piece of advice we provide." 


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