Please, say it ain’t so. Tell me this is all a bad dream and that the world’s largest banks really had learned their lesson over the last five years. No? They didn’t? REALLY? So, as the headlines shout, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, UBS, Barclays and RBS will be writing checks for $5.7 billion in fines. That’s FIVE BILLION, SEVEN HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS. Why? Can you spell criminal manipulation of foreign exchange rates? That doesn’t even include Barclay’s ancillary penalties of $1.3 billion and another $60 million paid to other regulators; or UBS’ $203 million for manipulating LIBOR and other interest rates. Even Bank of America received a $205 million slap on the wrist for “unsound practices”.
Yet this culture of greed and deceit remains a fixture in our society. Even as JPMorgan Chase’s TV commercials about the importance of “First Impressions” or Citi’s “Do Something” ads show them as caring, public serving entities that we should trust. Does anyone have a vomit bag handy?
In “The Tipping Point”, Malcolm Gladwell talks about when a variety of conditions align to change people’s thinking and decisions. When will the tipping point occur in big banking? One that will change the public’s decision to blindly trust those who are interested only in lining their own pockets with ill-gotten gains?
We make decisions all the time. We decide not to buy produce from growers who don’t pay their workers a fair wage or who spray their crops with pesticides. We decide whether to eat fast food or become vegetarians. We make these decisions based on what we believe aligns with our standards, morals, ethics and beliefs. Why support organizations that promote unfair labor practices or companies that put inferior quality into the products they manufacture?
Philosopher-Diplomat Joseph de Maistre said “Every nation gets the government they deserve.” The same can be said for the corporations that stand as leaders on the world’s stage. If we allow these wrongdoers to continue to act illegally and immorally then we, by virtue of our continual support, approve of their actions.
What can the “little guy” do in a world where corporate giants set the rules? Know your values and make decisions every day based on them. If your values do not align with the actions of the companies you support, then stop. If you went to a restaurant and were mistreated, you’d probably find a new place to eat your dinner. Why is this different?
JPMorgan Chase declares their business principles like this: “Built with hard work over 200 years, our company has been there for our clients and communities in good and bad times. We will continue to invest in our businesses for the long-term, and together, build a company in which we can all be proud.”
Citi’s Mission: “Citi works tirelessly to serve individuals, communities, institutions and nations. With 200 years of experience meeting the world’s toughest challenges and seizing its greatest opportunities, we strive to create the best outcomes for our clients and customers with financial solutions that are simple, creative and responsible.”
Barclays’ Purpose and Values: “Barclays has undertaken a fundamental review of how our business operates. We have looked at the bank in terms of business performance and in terms of culture because we know that only a business driven by strong values can deliver strong, sustainable returns.”
UBS’ Code of Business Conduct and Ethics: “At UBS, we uncompromisingly treat our reputation as our most valuable asset and we will protect it fiercely. Three principles guide us. We demonstrate an unrivaled client focus at every level of our business building relationships that create long-term value, focusing on investment returns and anticipating and managing conflicts of interest.”
These mission statements talk about declarations of values, responsibility, reputation and pride. But the results of this double-speak are billions in fines for criminal acts. So either the public starts saying “No mas, no mas” or we get what we deserve.