Ethical dilemmas come at us in all kinds of ways, large and small, with a surprising frequency. This week, we’re looking at five “everyday ethics” problems, presenting one each day. Think them over, decide what you believe is the best course of action, and then compare your views with mine, which you’ll find at the bottom of this post. Be sure to comment if you disagree. Here’s today’s problem:
I work at a bank with a lot of older clients who own CDs, which yield very little interest these days. When it’s time to roll them over, I’m supposed to make a big pitch for other investment products we offer, with special emphasis on deferred annuities, which provide more profit to the bank. The main benefit of annuities (delayed taxes) is of little use to clients on limited fixed incomes with little or no tax liability, and I think it’s a bad choice for them. I usually don’t even mention the annuity to these clients. I think I’m doing the ethical thing, but my wife is worried I’ll get fired if my boss ever finds out.
Here’s my view:
Sales jobs get tricky fast when you don’t believe in the product you’re selling. You’re faced with competing ethical principles, and it’s not easy to sort through them. In your case, you’re accepting a pay check to do a specific job and you’re not doing it. That’s hardly ethical. On the other hand, talking your clients into a bad investment decision is unethical, too. Deception (pretending the product is right for them) is almost always problematic. You’d be on more solid ground if you just presented the array of products your bank offers without pushing the annuity, but if you’re under orders to sell more annuities, that doesn’t work either.
Here’s what I’d do if I were you: I’d go to my boss and explain my concerns with annuities, making a detailed and fact-supported case for why they’re the wrong investment for this class of people. I’d propose an alternative; presumably there’s another bank product that is more appropriate. Then I’d listen carefully to what my boss says. Maybe I’ll find out I’m wrong about the annuities, or maybe he’ll shrug and tell me to do what I think is right.
But understand that if he insists you push the annuities and the only reason is bank profit, your only ethical option is to find another job. The faster, the better. Unfortunately, that won’t help the clients because presumably you’ll be replaced with a more willing shill. But short of picketing outside the bank, there’s not much else you can do.