Question

YOU have graduated from Deakin and have joined a major financial advice firm in the city....

YOU have graduated from Deakin and have joined a major financial advice firm in the city. The boutique firm is known for its famous clients, many of whom are celebrities and their respective family and friends. As a young graduate you went through a difficult selection criterion to successfully fill a very sought-after and competitive position as an adviser.

Don Richardson is the executive and top senior adviser at the firm and takes time to personally mentor and train new recruits, to make sure they become familiar and comfortable with their role and also become familiar with the firm’s culture.

Don invites you regularly to his home for dinner and you also regularly help him out as a family friend. Don’s partner, Mary Wilson, worked as a real estate agent for twenty years and is now considering a career change. Don and Mary only recently started dating, and so far you were the only person from the firm who had the opportunity to meet and spend time with Mary.

A few months into your job, you learn that the position of consultant in real estate investment was filled by none other than Mary Wilson herself. This is surprising to you at first, but as the weeks go by it doesn’t seem unusual to you, especially given the professionalism shown by both Mary Wilson and her partner, senior adviser Don Richardson, in the workplace. Both Don and Mary are able to separate their personal life from their professional engagements.

Mary quickly adjusts to her role and in very short time is able to use her extensive experience to bring in many satisfied clients. After her half year probationary review, she is now up for a promotion which comes with a pay rise and other benefits. You later learn that Don Richardson was part of the committee for both the promotion and the probation.

Given the performance of the firm, especially in the real estate investment area, Don Richardson was eligible to receive a bonus for his leadership. It was always clear to you that the performance of the team, including Mary Wilson, was a reflection of genuine hard work and professionalism. There have been no behavioural issues at work due to the personal relationship between Don and Mary.

What you initially assumed to be good professional behaviour turned out to be more, as it eventually becomes clear to you that Mary and Don are deliberately distant from each other because no one in the firm, except you and a few senior executives, have knowledge about their relationship.


While you are convinced that both Don and Mary have worked professionally and have achieved their success purely on their own skill and merit, it still troubles you that their personal relationship outside work has not been more transparently disclosed. Even though there are no behavioural issues of concern regarding how Don and Mary interact and work together at the firm, it still troubles you that there is so much secrecy surrounding their relationship. You wonder if this is simply to keep their personal life separate and private which is what they are entitled to do.

While the firm has achieved success in some areas, there were some ongoing issues that have appeared to have gotten worse since the time you joined. The firm was subject to a joint investigation by two top media outlets, which uncovered a story that the firm had a number of elderly clients who had since faced financial difficulty due to being recommended riskier investment products by the firm. At least 3,000 clients of retirement age have filed complaints with their losses widely known due to media interest.

As part of the same investigation, it was also found that executive remuneration had soared in the last five years, with a significant increase in the number of senior staff who earned an average salary of $300,000 per annum. The salaries of the seven top executives average around $660,000 per annum. In addition to his salary, Don was also entitled to bonuses in connection with the recent success of Mary Wilson in her work leading the real estate investment side of the firm’s financial advice service. Don and the other executives do not feel concerned about the media reports, dismissing the issues raised as baseless claims.

One day you have a conversation with a fellow graduate regarding what you knew about Don Richardson and Mary Wilson, and how they may be connected to the issues the firm is facing. Your colleague reacts quite strongly and felt that not only should you have spoken up sooner, but that you are obligated to file a formal internal complaint.

The issues are further problematic given that Don has knowledge of Mary’s contractual status. In some instances, Mary had to report directly to Don especially when time came for probationary meetings and promotion reviews. While you and some of the senior advisers are aware of their connection, you feel that it has not been clearly disclosed to the rest of the firm and its key stakeholders.

You approach Don to discuss some of these issues. Don feels that his relationship with Mary is private and is no one’s business, and he feels he has done his part by disclosing the relationship to a few key top executives in the firm but not to the rest of the organisation. Don has asked you to not bring his personal life to the attention of junior staff and those outside the firm, as it would make his life difficult and he may even have to resign. This will also create problems for Mary as the scandal may discredit all her hard work and achievements that were based on her own skill and talent. Don feels that the details of his personal life should remain confidential for his and Mary’s sake.

If you were to file an internal complaint about the lack of transparency and disclosure regarding the personal relationship between Don and Mary, there is a strong possibility that Don may not only be stripped of the bonus for failing to properly declare that Mary Wilson was his partner, but both may lose their credibility and reputation as talented financial advisers. The lack of timely and responsible disclosure will make Don and other senior executives responsible for the alleged mismanagement, underperformance, and poor governance reported by the media. This will likely damage the firm and put them at risk of losing their valuable clients.

You are faced with a difficult dilemma with a range of issues. You feel you need to make use of all your training and education in ethics to reach and justify a responsible and ethical decision. What do you do?

Homework Answers

Answer #1

Finance and ethics go hand in hand and ethics should always be cosnidered by financial advisors as pilar of finance. In the present scenario the ideal approach should be appraoch the inter nal compliance officer of the firm and explpain him the entire situationa and raise the trigger accordingly. If possible the trigger should be raised anonymously.

Even though Mary has relevant experience and have acheived the position because of her talent but her peersonal relationship with her immediate superior should be adequately disclosed as per the policies of the firm.

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