Why purpose, values, principles matter

In advising organisations about ethics and culture, our Ethics Centre consultants often start by asking a simple question: “Do you have an ethical framework?” What we’re trying to understand is whether the company has a well-defined purpose, supported by values and principles. It’s the bedrock upon which every successful and well-run company is built.

Over the last twenty years we have witnessed a veritable roll call of organisations who have faced an ethical crisis. And for some, this crisis has threatened their very existence. And while the individual factors will vary, there is often one underlying root cause of this failing – a drift from the organisation’s ethical framework.

An ethical framework is a critical foundation for any organisation. It expresses their purpose, values and principles – quite literally, what they believe in and what standards they’ll uphold. In making these visible, as well as living across everything they do, it allows the organisation to be the best possible version of itself, now and into the future.

If an ethical framework is practically useful, it will provide a way to diagnose ethical failure, apportion responsibility and offer a means to provide justice for victims. However, this is merely the minimum standard. It also provides the ideal that should be strived for.

An ethical framework demands something more than mere compliance. It asks employees to exercise judgement and accept personal responsibility for the decisions they make. In order to be effective, it must be consistently embraced by every member of the organisation.

  • Values tell us what’s good – they’re the things we strive for, desire and seek to protect.
  • Principles tell us what’s right – outlining how we may or may not achieve our values.
  • Purpose is our reason for being – it gives life to our values and principles.

The power of a good ethical framework

A strong ethical framework will unite an organisation’s workforce under a common goal, creating a far better workplace culture in the process. It will help leaders make decisions that are consistent with purpose, and improve decision-making capacity across the organisation. It supports a company to be more adaptable to change and clearly demonstrates to clients, customers and other stakeholders what they stand for and where they’re headed.

A company will struggle to develop consistent workplace policies or a corporate strategy without an ethical framework. But the reverse is also true: with an ethical framework all of these processes become far easier to navigate.

Purpose

In designing an ethical framework, much is made of purpose statements – primarily because they tend to be the most visible, public-facing feature of the framework. Creating a great purpose statement is something of an art form, it needs to achieve a great deal in a few words. It should be inspiring, have an aspirational quality, and capture the essence of your company’s ‘why?’.

Ideally, purpose statements should describe how your company is satisfying a need in society or in the market. Examples include Disney’s “To make people happy” or technology powerhouse Atlassian “To unleash the power in every team”. We’re quite proud of The Ethics Centre’s purpose statement which is “To bring ethics to the centre of everyday life.”

Values and principles

Values and principles enable employees to distinguish between what is regarded as important and the means by which they should be pursued. They help to frame business activity to ensure it stays true to its purpose and contract with society. A good framework will be;

  • Stable – will not change significantly (in its essence) over the long term
  • Understandable – by all of those required to apply it in practice
  • Practical – able to be applied in practice and with consistency
  • Authentic – it will ‘ring true’.

Good for business

Having an ethical framework isn’t designed to maximise profits – it’s designed to protect and improve the relationship between business and society. But it does often benefit business as a commercial enterprise as well. By motivating employees and demonstrating the value and purpose of the business to them, they serve as ambassadors for the organisation.

Although purpose statements, corporate values and organisational principles aren’t a guarantee of perfect ethical conduct, they are a crucial ingredient in building a culture in which bad behaviour is discouraged and dis-incentivised. They’re also a flag of goodwill to stakeholders that an organisation is looking to serve humanity and not simply turn a quick buck.

Ethical frameworks are not magic bullets to solve an organisation’s problems – they won’t guarantee that all employees will do the right thing every time. But approached with the proper degree of care and sophistication, the very process of developing these codes can have a profoundly positive effect on the culture of an enterprise. In establishing the things you believe in and identifying the behaviours you wish to encourage, you establish a framework for a great corporate culture – one based on respect, trust, collaboration and accountability. And who wouldn’t want that?

Creating an ethical framework

It may surprise you to learn that many companies have no ethical framework at all. And of those that do, many are working with largely meaningless statements that offer little in the way of guidance. Some were written decades ago. Some were cooked up by marketing strategists as part of a corporate branding exercise. Whatever their provenance, there’s a sense that the framework has ceased to have any meaning for the people who work at the company.

Developing an ethical framework is only the starting point. Ensuring the framework is fully embedded and understood throughout an organisation and lived by its people is the harder challenge. Over three decades of consulting work, we’ve helped countless organisations to develop and embed their ethical frameworks. We’ve worked across multiple sectors and with companies of many shapes and sizes.

If you’d like to talk to The Ethics Centre about creating an ethical framework for your organisation, we’d love to hear from you.

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Does your leader speak with a “forked tongue”?


Save the date: FODI returns in 2020!

Festival of Dangerous Ideas (FODI), Australia’s original provocative ideas festival, returns in 2020 for its 10th festival. April 3 to 5 will be a milestone weekend of provocation, contemplation, critical thinking and preparation for the battles of the next decade.

Presented by The Ethics Centre, FODI 2020 will once again feature leading thinkers from Australia and around the world to interrogate the issues of today and prepare for the major shifts of tomorrow.

FODI Festival Director, Danielle Harvey said: “Over the past decade the number of avenues for people to talk and share their opinions has steadily increased, we are more connected than ever with like-minded people, but the cost has been significant. We are losing the ability to listen.

“Without the tools to listen to other opinions and contemplate new ideas, society risks fracturing like never before.”

“Without the tools to listen to other opinions and contemplate new ideas, society risks fracturing like never before. The Festival of Dangerous Ideas has always been an opportunity for deep thinking, carving out precious space for disagreement, difference of opinion and critical thinking.

“As we brace for 2020, FODI will celebrate its 10th anniversary by looking again to the future and presenting a cohort of FODI alumni, representing the world’s best thinkers, journalists, creators and specialists, giving Sydneysiders an opportunity to listen to what will be shaping the world tomorrow.”

The Ethics Centre Executive Director, Dr Simon Longstaff said:

“The Ethics Centre is thrilled to once again be presenting the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. One of The Ethics Centre’s strategic priorities is to build and sustain the ‘ethical infrastructure’ that underpins a free, dynamic and democratic society.

“Fragile societies break apart when challenged. The resilient cohere around a common desire to face the truth – even if it is hard to bear.”

“Fragile societies break apart when challenged. The resilient cohere around a common desire to face the truth – even if it is hard to bear. FODI tests the truth of the claim that we are a ‘civil’ society – and proves that even in moments of profound disagreement – we have the strength to live an ‘examined life’.”

Last year’s sell-out festival featured Stephen Fry, Rukmini Callimachi, Niall Ferguson, Megan Phelps-Roper, Chuck Klosterman and Toby Walsh.

More information, including the full program and festival venue, will be announced in the coming months. Visit festivalofdangerousideas.com to subscribe to be the first to hear our news.

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What dangerous idea would you like to uncover?


Drawing a line on corruption: Operation eclipse submission

The Ethics Centre (TEC) has made a submission to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) regarding its discussion paper, The Regulation of Lobbying, Access and Influence in NSW: A Chance To Have Your Say.

Released in April 2019 as part of Operation Eclipse, it’s public review into how lobbying activities in NSW should be regulated.

As a result of the submission TEC Executive Director, Dr Simon Longstaff has been invited to bear witness at the inquiry, which will also consider the need to rebuild public trust in government institutions and parliamentarians.

Our submission acknowledged the decline in trust in government as part of a broader crisis experienced across our institutional landscape – including the private sector, the media and the NGO sector. It is TEC’s view that the time has come to take deliberate and comprehensive action to restore the ethical infrastructure of society.

We support the principles being applied to the regulation of lobbying: transparency, integrity, fairness and freedom.

Key points within The Ethics Centres submission include:

    • There is a difference between making representations to government on one’s own behalf and the practice of paying another person or party with informal government connections to advocate to government. TEC views the latter to be ‘lobbying’
    • Lobbying has the potential to allow the government to be influenced more by wealthier parties, and interfere with the duty of officials and parliamentarians to act in the public interest
    • No amount of compliance requirements can compensate for a poor decision making culture or an inability of officials, at any level, to make ethical decisions. While an awareness and understanding of an official’s obligations is necessary, it is not sufficient. There is a need to build their capacity to make ethical decisions and support an ethical decision making culture.

You can read the full submission here.

Update

Dr Simon Longstaff, Executive Director at The Ethics Centre, presented as a witness to the Commission on Monday 5 August. You can read the public transcript on the ICAC website here.

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the dark side of the Australian workplace

The dark side of the Australian workplace

the dark side of the Australian workplace

The founder of a law firm recently explained long working days under high pressure at his firm, saying: “People come here with the knowledge and expectation that they’re going to have to work hard”.

He could have been speaking for any number of employers in high-stress industries.

As young graduates leave university to work in top-tier law firms, in hospitals, merchant banks and professional services, they are already well acquainted with hard work and competition. They have strived to become the best and brightest through many years of education, often polishing their resumes with extra-curricular achievements in sport, music and volunteer work – all the while supporting themselves with part-time jobs.

These young people know what it is like to “burn the candle at both ends”, to run themselves ragged getting ahead of the competition so they can get one of the prized entry-level jobs that may lead to continued success.

They expect to be worked hard. They probably don’t expect to be worked to death.

Two leading law firms have recently been investigated over complaints about “extreme working conditions”, where one solicitor warned that it had reached a “point someone will die or have some other physical or mental health episode’’.

An unprecedented move by WorkSafe

In one well-publicised example, WorkSafe Victoria had launched an investigation into King & Wood Mallesons in Melbourne after a similar complaint regarding overwork and exhaustion, particularly during the Banking and Finance Royal Commission.

King & Wood Mallesons chief executive partner, Berkeley Cox, says the legal industry is paying much closer attention to the issue of work stress.

“We have learnt so much over the past year and recognise that there is a lot more that law firms can and should be doing to improve the everyday work experience for individuals and the systematic issues at an organisational and industry-wide level,” he says.

“While we have much more to do on our journey, we want our workplace to be one where every individual has the opportunity to flourish.”

WorkSafe’s action is regarded as unprecedented in the legal industry and some pundits have nominated it as a “death knell” for the concept of the “billable hour” – whereby firms charge clients for each hour their lawyers work.

The billable hours system means that workers are incentivised to work longer, rather than smarter.

Certainly, the statistics around mental health in the legal profession are alarming.

Around 50 per cent of law students, 33 per cent of solicitors and 20 per cent of barristers report they have experienced depression. Further, 11 per cent of lawyers contemplate suicide each month, according to research published on the website of legal mental health charity, Minds Count (formerly the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation).

A punishing rite of passage

Investigating the causes of this crisis and exploring possible solutions usually leads back to an industry culture of being always-available to clients, unreasonable demands for fast turnarounds and the “billable hour”. There is also a long-held belief in the professions that young people will work punishing hours as a “rite of passage” that will pay off in the long run.

In the legal industry, Royal Commissions tend to amp up the pressure, with work going on in 24-hour cycles in 15-hour shifts, seven days per week, in an environment that is intolerant of mistakes or human frailties.

As it is, lawyers work longer overtime than professionals in any other field in Australia, according to a position paper by The Legal Forecast, a not-for-profit group that provides support for students and early-career lawyers.

Under discussion at a recent event, hosted by The Legal Forecast, was the exacting timetabling of the Hayne Royal Commission and the impact it had on lawyers, particularly junior staff.

DLA Piper Australia co-managing partner and Minds Count board member, Melinda Upton, asked: “Was it worth the sacrifice when you look at statistics on people committing suicide and entering depression? Did it have to be done that quickly?”.

This point was picked up by Scarlet Reid, a partner at McCullough Robertson Lawyers, who said she worked on the Hayne Royal Commission and is now working on this year’s Aged Care Royal Commission.

Reid said the Aged Care commission was proceeding at a “much slower pace” and questioned whether the banking Royal Commission really had to be completed in one year.

“Politics drives that as well,” she said. “We could slow down.”

She said many of the organisations involved in giving evidence to the Aged Care Royal Commission were not-for-profits that did not have the funds to pay for large legal teams – a factor that puts a brake on the pace.

Need to slow down

Partner at legal recruitment firm ECP Legal, Justin Whealing, said a senior banking corporate counsel told him he wished the law firms and their clients had teamed up to ask the commissioner for more time.

“I think the legal profession could do that better, in terms of presenting a united front to speak in one voice about how meaningful changes can be made for the betterment of the profession. Clients would get better advice as well and it would be more sustainable for the people in it,” Whealing said. He also advocated having an industry-wide standard, setting out conditions such as maximum work hours and mandatory breaks and using targets.

Reid acknowledged the bind that law firms find themselves in: “It’s very difficult when you’ve got clients needing to meet deadlines, getting into witness boxes. And, you know, it’s a balance”.

Some firms are using contract lawyers to help manage workload over peak times, says the head of Innovation and Project Delivery at Pinsent Masons, Alison Laird. Even without being involved in a Royal Commission, there are huge deadlines that must be met. “So we ramp up the team, and then we ramp them down again,” she says.

Getting rid of ‘billable hours’

Laird said things will not improve until law firms change the way they remunerate their people and get rid of the “billable hour” system, which drives lawyers to bill a certain number of hours per year to the detriment of their mental wellbeing. “It is the one thing that impacts innovation more than anything else,” she says.

At least one top tier firm, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, is dumping the billable hour concept (while adding an extra week of annual leave) and replacing them with annual billing targets, which allow for peaks and troughs of client-billed activity.

However, Melinda Upton warned that replacing the billable hours system cannot happen without the support of clients, who are likely to push back on any change. Member of The Legal Forecast NSW, Edwin Montoya Zorrilla, supports a move away from billable hours and offers more remedies: the automation of various legal tasks and integrating long-term thinking into practice management and recruitment.

“This discussion also includes more specific strategies such as optimising systems of delegation and work sharing, better communication with clients, and using technology-assisted project management tools,” he writes in an article for Westlaw.
“Yet, none of these strategies, however innovative, take effect overnight, and there remains a tendency to return to traditional means of meeting the bottom line.”

Encourage safe work

Upton said it is a responsibility of law firm partners and management to educate the partners about staff wellbeing and “to call it out when they don’t come to the table on it”.

They can also highlight examples where enforcing or encouraging safe work practices has worked well.

“Usually it means your attrition rates have improved, you’ve got a much happier team, you’ve got succession and talent mapping and progression going on, you get good client feedback. And clients really don’t care where you work.”

Reid says working shorter hours may mean that law partners have to accept they will make less money.

When partners discuss remuneration structures at a firm-wide level, they need to be talking about encouraging the sharing of work between teams, the use of contract lawyers and other ways to create a sustainable work environment.

“There is an element of almost a corporate greed associated with the driving of long hours … unless you’re going to change the remuneration structure, then it’s going to be hard to drive behaviour,” she says.

This article was originally written for The Ethics Alliance. The Alliance is a community of organisations sharing insights and learning together, to find a better way of doing business.

This article was originally written for The Ethics Alliance. Find out more about this corporate membership program. Already a member? Log in to the membership portal for more content and tools here.

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What will we be doing in the future if we are not doing paid work?


universal-basic-income

Why the future is workless

universal-basic-income

Predictions for the future of work can make grim reading – depending on your point of view. Many of our jobs are being automated out of existence, however, it looks like we will have a lot more free time.

Writer and Doctor of Philosophy, Tim Dunlop, says people and governments are going to have to rethink how we support ourselves when there isn’t enough paid work to go around.

Dunlop does not ascribe to the view often put forward by economists that technology will generate enough jobs to replace the ones that are destroyed by robotics and artificial intelligence.

“I don’t know if that’s necessarily true in the medium term… I think there’s going to be a really nasty transition for more than a generation,” says Dunlop, the author of Why the Future is Workless and The Future of Everything.

“We are going through this huge period of transition at the moment and we don’t really know where it’s heading. We’re at the bottom of the curve, in terms of what [new technologies] are going to be capable of.”

 

 

Dunlop says framing question around the future of work as “will a robot take my job?”, is reductive. Instead, we should be looking at what sort of job will be available and what the conditions will be for the jobs that are offered.

“If we are working less hours, or there is less work, or the economy just needs fewer people, and then we don’t have a technology problem, we’ve got a distribution problem,” he says.

The “hollowing out” of the job market means that middle-skilled jobs are disappearing because they can be automated. Trying to “upskill” people who have been displaced, or redirect them into jobs that need a human touch (such as caring jobs) is not an answer for everyone.

“Not everybody can have a high-skill, high-paid sort of job. You need those middle-level jobs as well. And if you don’t have those, then society’s got a problem.” he says.

Dunlop says one way of addressing the issue is a universal basic income: where everybody gets a standard payment to cover their basic needs.

“I don’t think you can rely on wages to distribute wealth in an equitable way, in the way that might have been in the recent past,” he says.

The idea of a Universal Basic Income has been around since the 16thCentury and is unconditional – not based on household income.

In Australia, the single-person pension (now just over $24,000 per annum) might be seen as an appropriate level of payment, according to Dunlop, in an article written for the Inside Story  website.

“It is basic also in the sense that it provides an income floor below which no one can fall. The payment is unconditional in that no one has to fulfil any obligations in order to receive it, and even if you earn other income you’re still eligible. That makes it universal, equally available to the poorest member of society as it is to the start-up billionaire,” he writes.

Much of the discomfort often voiced about such a scheme centres around the idea that people are being paid to “do nothing” and that it removes the incentive to work.

However, trials show that in developing countries, people use the money to improve their situation, starting businesses, sending children to school and avoiding prostitution. In Europe and Canada, people receiving the payment tend to stay in their jobs and entrepreneurship increases.

Trials of the Universal Basic Income are now taking place globally – from Switzerland to Canada to Kenya – but most are limited to the unemployed or financially needy, rather than being universal.

Dunlop says that, rather than worrying about whether people “deserve” the payment, we should accept the concept of “shared citizenship”. Whether we do paid work, or not, we are all contributing to the overall wealth of society.

Inequality comes when wealth gets divided up by those who do work that is paid and those who own the means of production. With a Universal Basic Income, everybody’s contribution is valued and people get a benefit from the roles they play in the formal and informal economy, he says.

So what will we be doing in the future if we are not doing paid work? Dunlop says we will still have our hobbies, passions and families – and we can derive just as much (if not more) meaning from those things as we do from our jobs.

We are already seeing evidence of efforts to reduce the hours of work, with companies trying four-day work weeks (paid for five), the Swedish Government trialling a six-hour workday, a French law banning work emails after hours.

Dunlop says a “work ethic” culture makes it hard for these reforms to succeed and unions tend to see a push for reduced hours as a “trojan horse” threat of increasing casualisation and insecure work.

“That’s where things like the French rule about emails probably comes in handy. It sets some parameters around what society sees as acceptable and maybe it needs some government leadership in this area.”

This article was originally written for The Ethics Alliance. Find out more about this corporate membership program. Already a member? Log in to the membership portal for more content and tools here.

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What will we be doing in the future if we are not doing paid work?


Where do ethics and politics meet?

In the Western philosophical tradition, ethics and politics were frequently deemed to be two sides of a single coin.

Aristotle’s Ethics sought to answer the question of what is a good life for an individual person. His Politics considered what is a good life for a community (a polis). So, for the Ancient Greeks, at least, the good life existed on an unbroken continuum ranging from the personal through the familial to the social.

In some senses, this reflected an older belief that individuals exist as part of society. Indeed, in many cultures – in the Ancient world and today – the idea of an isolated individual makes little sense. Yet, there are a few key moments in Western philosophy when we see the individual emerging.

St Thomas Aquinas argued that no individual or institution has ‘sovereignty’ over the well-informed conscience of the individual.

Renee Descartes placed the self-certain subject at the centre of all knowledge and in doing so undermined the authority of institutions that based their claims to superiority on revelation, tradition or hierarchy. Reason was to take centre stage.

Aquinas and Descartes (along with too many to be named here) helped to set the foundations for a modern form of politics in which the conscientious judgement of the individual takes precedence over that of the community.

Today, we observe a global political landscape in which ethics can be hard to detect. It’s easy to say that many politicians are ruled by naked greed, fear, opinion polls, blind ideology or a lust for power.

 

 

This probably isn’t fair to the many politicians who apply themselves to their responsibilities with care and diligence.

In the end, ethics is about living an examined life – something that should apply whether the choices to be made are those of an individual, a group or a whole society.

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Does ethics have a seat in the house of politics?


What is Free Will ethics?

What is the definition of Free Will ethics?

What is Free Will ethics?

Free Will describes our capacity to make choices that are genuinely our own. With free will comes moral responsibility – our ownership of our good and bad deeds.

That ownership indicates that if we make a choice that is good, we deserve the resulting rewards. If in turn we make a choice that is bad, we probably deserve those consequences as well. In the case of a really bad choice, such as committing murder, we may have to accept severe punishment.

The link between free will and responsibility has both theological and philosophical roots.

Within theology, for example, the claim that humans are ‘made in the image of God’ (a central tenet of major religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam) is not that they are the physical image of their creator.

Rather, the claim is made that humans are made in the ‘moral image’ of God – which is to say that they are endowed with the ‘divine’ capacity to exercise free will.

Of course, the experience of free will is not limited to those who hold a religious belief. Philosophers also argue that it would be unjust to blame someone for a choice over which they have no control.

Determinism is the belief that all choices are determined by an unbroken chain of cause and effect. Those who believe in ‘determinism’ oppose free will, arguing that that the belief that we are the authors of our own actions is a delusion.

While scientific evidence has found that there is brain activity prior to the sensation of having made a choice, is unable to the resolve the question of which account is correct.

Should that gap close – and free will be proven to be an illusion, then the basis for ascribing guilt to those who act unethically (including criminals) will also be destroyed.

How could we justify punishing a person who claims that they had no choice but to do evil?

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Is free will merely just an illusion?


automated-cars-ethics

Why ethics matters for autonomous cars

Why ethics matters for autonomous cars?

Whether a car is driven by a human or a machine, the choices to be made may have fatal consequences for people using the vehicle or others who are within its reach.

A self-driving car must play dual roles – that of the driver and of the vehicle. As such, there is a ‘de-coupling’ of the factors of responsibility that would normally link a human actor to the actions of a machine under his or her control. That is decision to act and the action itself are both carried out by the vehicle.

Autonomous systems are designed to make choices without regard to the personal preferences of human beings, those who would normally exercise control over decision-making.

Given this, people are naturally invested in understanding how their best interests will be assessed by such a machine (or at least the algorithms that shape – if not determine – its behaviour).

In-built ethics from the ground up

There is a growing demand that the designers, manufacturers and marketers of autonomous vehicles embed ethics into the core design – and then ensure that they are not weakened or neutralised by subsequent owners.

We can accept that humans make stupid decisions all the time, but, we hold autonomous systems to a higher standard.

This is easier said than done – especially when one understands that autonomous vehicles are unlikely ever to be entirely self-sufficient. For example, autonomous vehicles will often be integrated into a network (e.g. geospatial positioning systems) that complements their integrated, onboard systems.

 

A complicated problem

This will exacerbate the difficulty of assigning responsibility in an already complex network of interdependencies.

If there is a failure, will the fault lie with the designer of the hardware, or the software, or the system architecture…or some combination of these and others? What standard of care will count as being sufficient when the actions of each part affects the others and the whole?

This suggests that each design element needs to be informed by the same ethical principles – so as to ensure as much ethical integrity as possible. There is also a need to ensure that human beings are not reduced to the status of being mere ‘network’ elements.

What we mean by this is to ensure the complexity of human interests are not simply weighed in the balance by an expert system that can never really feel the moral weight of the decisions it must make.

For more insights on ethical technology, make sure you download our ‘Ethical by Design‘ guide where we take a detailed look at the principles companies need to consider when designing ethical technology.

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Would you travel in an autonomous car?


Crunch Time for Financial Advisers – Stay or Go?

How can Financial Advisers rebuild trust?

Crunch Time for Financial Advisers – Stay or Go?

It would be no exaggeration to say the Australian financial advice industry is going through a difficult time.

Following years of scandals, and shocking evidence brought to light by the Hayne royal commission, urgent steps are now being taken to “professionalise” the banking and finance sector.

Amongst the headlines: embattled financial services giant AMP is setting aside an eye watering $290 million to compensate customers who received poor financial advice, and a further $35 million annually to improve compliance structures.

All of the major banks have announced their plans to “amputate” financial advice and wealth management from their portfolio of vertically integrated activities.

Many advisers have already lost their jobs. And many more have already announced their intention to leave the industry rather than face greater scrutiny and a new compliance burden.

For those operators planning to stay in business, there’s a new sheriff in town. The Financial Adviser Standards and Ethics Authority (FASEA) was established by the Federal Government in 2017 to set the education, training and ethical standards of licensed financial advisers in Australia.

FASEA requirements for mandatory education and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) are unlike anything the industry has ever seen.

The push to professionalise the sector is moving with speed. Starting this year, advisers will be required to undertake formal education, in the form of either a full degree or bridging course, plus nine hours of continuing professional development (CDP) annually. Advisers will be required to pass an exam to earn their license and continue to operate. 

What’s the problem?

While the standards mentioned above might sound perfectly reasonable to someone already working within a well established profession such as accountancy or the law, this is unfamiliar territory for many financial advisers.

Many advisers who have been working for years or even decades will be daunted by the demand for serious study and a formal academic qualification. Some advisers have already expressed concern at the financial burden of course fees and lost income. Many others will be daunted by the sheer number of hours required each year to meet FASEA’s standards.

It’s little wonder the industry is going through a crisis of confidence. And while the emphasis has rightly been placed on the rights of the customer, and the many people who have received poor advice, it’s also worth pausing to think about the impact this has on individual advisers – some of whom have been operating honestly and ethically for many years. For such people, and there are many, the avalanche of bad press and community outcry has been difficult to bear.

We know many people become financial advisers because they are passionate about the financial wellbeing of their family, friends and community. They aspire to help people secure economic stability and security whilst avoiding the abundant pitfalls and bad products.

Of Gallup’s Five Essential Elements of Well-being, financial security is at the centre. Practiced ethically and professionally, the work of a financial adviser supports and protects other critical areas of a person’s life. 

This leads to some interesting questions about the overarching purpose of a financial adviser.

Why does this role exist? What purpose does it serve individuals, communities and society at large? What is the overarching public good that can be achieved from a profession that supports, protects and grows a person’s financial wealth?  

Or to look at it another way, what would the world look like without financial advice? If all of the competent advisers were to leave the industry, where does that leave the community?

Advisers who are on the fence about their future should take time to work out what the role of financial advice means to them. Whilst the reputation of the industry may be at its lowest point, it’s a great time to get back to basics and think about the purpose and impact of this type of work.

What is the solution?

The Ethics Centre has had quite a bit of involvement in this story as it’s unfolded.  When the scandal first began to erupt three years ago, we worked with some of the largest advice firms to develop in-house training programs for financial advisers.

We’ve helped inform FASEA’s thinking on ethical standards for the industry. We’re currently working on building a course on ethics and professionalism to be delivered by universities.

We also offer free counselling to individuals via our Ethi-call service – and that includes financial advisers struggling at a career crossroads.

 

For those advisers currently at this point, we’d advise some clear headed thinking about career purpose and priorities. If you think you’d benefit from talking through your dilemma with an impartial counsellor, you are welcome to call Ethi-call.

The service is a free, appointment-based telephone counselling service offered by The Ethics Centre to help people navigate some of life’s toughest decisions.

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Would you travel in an autonomous car?


The Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

The Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

The Ethics of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

To understand the ethics of IVF (In vitro fertilisation) we must first consider the ethical status of an embryo.

This is because there is an important distinction to be made between when a ‘human life’ begins and when a ‘person’ begins.

The former (‘human life’) is a biological question – and our best understanding is that human life begins when the human egg is fertilised by sperm or otherwise stimulated to cause cell division to begin.

The latter is an ethical question – as the concept of ‘person’ relates to a being capable of bearing the full range of moral rights and responsibilities.

There are a range of other ethical issues IVF gives rise to:

  • the quality of consent obtained from the parties
  • the motivation of the parents
  • the uses and implications of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis
  • the permissibility of sex-selection (or the choice of embryos for other traits)
  • the storage and fate of surplus embryos.

For most of human history, it was held that a human only became a person after birth. Then, as the science of embryology advanced, it was argued that personhood arose at the moment of conception – a view that made sense given the knowledge of the time.

However, more recent advances in embryology have shown that there is a period (of up to about 14 days after conception) during which it is impossible to ascribe identity to an embryo as the cells lack differentiation.

Given this, even the most conservative ethical position (such as those grounded in religious conviction) should not disallow the creation of an embryo (and even its possible destruction if surplus to the parents’ needs) within the first 14 day window.

 

 

Let’s further explore the grounds of some more common objections. Some people object to the artificial creation of a life that would not be possible if left entirely to nature. Or they might object on the grounds that ‘natural selection’ should be left to do its work. Others object to conception being placed in the hands of mortals (rather than left to God or some other supernatural being).

When covering these objection it’s important to draw attention existing moral values and principles. For example, human beings regularly intervene with natural causes – especially in the realm of medicine – by performing surgery, administering pharmaceuticals and applying other medical technologies.

A critic of IVF would therefore need to demonstrate why all other cases of intervention should be allowed – but not this.

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Is it ethical to intercede in natural selection?