Late last year I published a post on LinkedIn about my dissertation research on developing ethical behavior in financial institutions. I was disheartened, but not surprised, by comments such as “a losing battle” and “oxymoron,” which promulgated a deeply cynical view of ethics in the financial sector. Fast forward to the announcement last week that Wells Fargo will pay a fine of $185 million (a mere drop in the bucked for a company that generated $23 billion in profits in 2015) to settle allegations of fraud committed by thousands of its employees. It is particularly disconcerting that unethical behavior could take place on such a massive scale after years of intense post-financial crisis scrutiny and regulation.
In spite of continued ethical breaches in the financial industry, as a “scholar-practitioner” in the field of adult learning, I am firm believer in the possibility of positive human growth and transformation. And, as a 17-year veteran of the financial industry, I have had the privilege of collaborating with many outstanding people who are fully committed to “doing the right thing”—helping clients achieve their long term financial goals and to supporting the development of vibrant economies in the communities they serve. Unfortunately, I have also worked with self-serving and even mean-spirited individuals whose behaviors were, in my view, unethical. Although many of them imploded over time, it was not before creating a trail of lasting devastation.