The Unfriendly Bank
Remember the good old days when your bank paid you money for the privilege of holding your money? They took the money you deposited with them, and provided credit to other customers in the form of business loans, mortgages, auto loans, and the like. Upon repayment by those customers of the money they borrowed, the bank provided you, the depositor, a modest interest payment, because, after all, it was your money they used in for those loans.
Today, for the privilege of using your money to make money, the bank now charges you a fee for keeping your money for you. People can be forgiven if they’ve come to see their bank as something like a cartoonish character holding you upside down to catch the change that falls out of your pockets.
Many banks, especially large cap banks such as Chase or Well Fargo appear to treat ethical failures as minor setbacks, a cost of doing business that is glossed over and minimized. It should be no surprise the average retail consumer of bank services feels he or she is not treated well or respected by the institutions that receive and use their money.
At one time the average bank had few, if any, fees. Now the bank is required by law to list all the fees they charge, and the list is over half a page. I recently asked an acquaintance of mine, a man a good deal younger than I, what he remember about his first experience with a bank. He said he was fifteen when he opened his first bank account, and that he opened both a checking and savings account.
He remembered that he received a folding camp-style folding chair, a complimentary coffee cup, and he could not recall what the third item was. He recalled that they made it clear he had to maintain a minimum balance, or he would be charge a fee. They did not tell him about other fees that he only learned about later.
What does this have to do with ethics? Many banking practices are the result of law and regulation. What is disclosed and not disclosed is defined by these outside agents, and the simple truth is that what is lawful is not necessarily ethical.
Transparency should not be legislated. It should be a natural by-product of an honest commercial relationship. This forced transparency is at the heart of much of the disquiet many have when they engage in transactions with their bank of choice. For many, the bank they ultimately choose, is one where they feel least put upon, and the situation is not likely to get better anytime soon.
The environment created by this latest pandemic will drive banking to become even more impersonal with less human to human contact. It will hasten the transition to a mostly mechanical/electronic environment, and it will have a negative impact on transparency.
It is unarguable that banks tread close to what is ethical and what is not, and all of us who rely on our bank of choice need to become more vigilant about how our bank’s practices impact our ability to see what they are doing with our money.
We Are Not Sweden
We see stories about ethical and integrity failures among the world’s largest companies more often than one might think. The number of cases is growing each year as is the drama surrounding the details once they are released. The U.S. reached a settlement with Sweden’s telecom giant Ericsson Telecom.
The settlement was in two parts where damages in an amount just over $500 million were assessed against the telecom company for bribery, falsifying records, and other misdeeds prohibit by laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In addition, another $500 Million was extracted through “disgorgement”.
Assessing damages for wrongdoing is a well-established legal doctrine, and though the amount agreed as representative of the damages caused, is surprisingly large; it is hard to argue against given the length of time the unethical practices existed.
Forcing the company to cough up an equal amount as punishment raises legal questions that I will leave to those more qualified to talk about. What I can say is that a line can easily be crossed between what is necessary to correct the misdeeds of individuals and companies and extortion. As the details of this settlement become more widely known, the astonishing Billion dollar settlement may be justified.
Yet, I cannot but conclude that you do one or the other. One either can make the case for damages consistent with the laws that were broken, or you are able to determine the specific amounts illegally gained and by force of law demand the individual or company return those ill-gotten gains.
It is all too easy to forget that just as companies can behave in an unethical manner, so can those acting as an agent of the government. Is disgorgement on top of damages unethical? It is a question that needs discussion.
These dramatic events are easy to see and follow once they become known. What is much more difficult to see is the impact of unethical conduct by government bureaucrats in the issuing of regulations. Many times small business owners are the ones that suffer the most from regulations, and often they don’t learn about these pending consequences in time to mitigate the adverse impacts.
I recently read a report in The Wall Street Journal’s about something called the Ultimate Beneficial Ownership (UBO) Registry, and a movement in Congress to make participation compulsory. Apparently, when I created my LLC through the State of Texas and filled out all of the necessary forms, that is no longer enough. Unbeknownst to me, this is an ongoing debate that’s been around for a while, driven by the fact that bad guys create shell companies to hide what they are doing.
On its face, the idea of identifying who benefits from the operations of a shady company is a good thing. Law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and elsewhere have a pressing need more tools to ferret out corruption.
What sounds good in theory or in a carefully worded press release by some mid-level staffer in a government agency is one thing, drilling down into the details in something else. When you do drill down, you find the burden for making this process work will fall on the owners of the companies required to input their data into the registry and maintain its accuracy, and they will suffer legal consequences if they don’t.
So, the small business owner now may have to contend with a database that law-abiding business owners must participate in and provide information already available to law enforcement; where they must bear the costs of maintenance and no assurance of privacy can be offered or guaranteed.
Should this useless exercise come to pass, it will not drive anyone out of business, but it will represent a layer of costs that provide no value to the business owner and will create increased risk across areas not yet defined.
Larger businesses rarely take time to learn about or meet with the owners of small businesses. Yet, opportunities do exist where leaders of large and small companies can meet and understand the many things they have in common.
One of those opportunities is provided each year by the Services Cooperative Association. SCA is a co-operative comprised of business owners that have a purpose that hasn’t varied in 36 years. Through its processes, it assists business owners in Market Expansion, Business Development, Entrepreneurial and Intrapreneurial Education and Professional Growth. It is a set of processes that has led numerous companies to succeed where they might otherwise have failed.
Each year the Services Cooperative Association hosts its Annual Economic Forecast, and on Wednesday, January 8, 2020, the association will host its 37th Economic Forecast. Each year the City Controller, or his or her representative, presents the city’s view of the Houston economy, and Houston Community College provides an overview for the State of Texas.
Mr. Chris Brown, Controller for the city of Houston, has once again accepted the invitation to be SCA’s keynote speaker at this event, and Professor of Economics, Ms. Sophie Haci accepted on behalf of HCC.
As Chairman of the Board for the Services Cooperative Association, I cordially invite those of you reading this who live in the greater Houston Area to mark your calendars and take the time to attend this annual event, meet other small business owners, and gain a fresh perspective on the many issues that impact our fellow Houstonians.
I invite you to visit the website here, and learn more about the event, and while there take a moment to check out some of the other resources available through SCA.
Food for Thought: “We learn to do, we learn by actually doing it; men come to be builders, for instance, by building, and harp players by playing the harp. In the same way, by doing just acts we come to be just; by doing self-controlled acts, we come to be self-controlled; and by doing brave acts, we become brave”. (Aristotle)
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What Did He Say?
Every once in a while, when you are deep into a discussion, you hear something that sounds like “and the eagle flew upside down.” Your first reaction is what? What did he say? If the person was talking to you, your second reaction is, am I losing my hearing? So you ask, what did you say? The person typically will give an answer that removes the initial confusion, but it will not ease the sense of disquiet that the person listening missed an essential clue in the conversation.
It is a common feeling because many times we do miss important clues. During his career, Peter Drucker would tell executives he worked with that in a negotiation the most important thing about that negotiation is what is left unsaid. When saying that, one of the things he was alluding to is that neither side takes the time to learn what is important to the other party in the disagreement.
Whether you are negotiating a contract or helping two parties settle a dispute, the truth underlying Peter Drucker’s admonition is an enduring truth. Too many times I see parties in a negotiation assigning little or no value to the other party’s concerns. Having done this for some years now, I’ve learned to discuss this issue early either in a mediation or when hired to help someone through a negotiation.
When I am brought in to consult, I make it clear that the route to a failed negotiation is taking the position that winning on all your key points is all that matters. Some years ago I assisted in a negotiation that led to an impasse because the person I was helping went into the room convinced he was right and the other side needed to see it his way. Many of you reading this already know that the insistence on being right is rarely a winning strategy.
In this instance when my client successfully painted himself into a corner, I suggested we take a break, which he readily agreed to. During our meeting, I asked him what he wanted to do. His first reaction was that he could not give up his position, that the other party would “run the table on him.” I let him talk for a bit, and then I asked him, what are the two key points the other side raised, and why were those two issues important to them?
After a short conversation, it became clear he could not state clearly why those two issues were essential to the other party. He had not learned that before sitting down to negotiate, and he had not discovered it during the negotiation. I suggested that when they resumed the discussions, that he re-set the tone by asking just one question. What is it you want me to know?
It is a simple question, yet a powerful one. Surprisingly, it is one question both sides forget to ask. I recently attended a dinner where a gentleman with a great deal of experience in this field gave a speech, and it was downright eerie to listen to him talk about solving disagreements and using language very similar to the language I routinely use.
In the example above the two sides eventually resolved the dispute successfully, but it took a bit of effort to get there. (My client was young, successful, and brash). He had good control over his personal and professional life, except for his ego; which is common among very bright people.
I was reminded of this when I read the book, Multipliers, by Dr. Liz Wiseman. A number of the examples in her book resonated with me because of my own experiences in helping others to become better listeners. I urge those reading my letters to buy this book – after buying my latest book. It’s called The Battle for Ethics and Integrity in the Workplace: The Leaders Dilemma.
And this brings me back to the eagle flew upside down. When you experience such a moment, you will find you don’t have a hearing problem; you have a listening problem. There is a growing awareness of this, and more companies are providing training to their employees to become better listeners. Unsurprisingly, I find too many companies offering these classes to the wrong end of the organization chart.
It is hard to convince employees to engage in better listening exercises when those higher up the chain don’t walk the walk. Managers and senior managers have a hundred different ways of saying “make the problem go away, do it quickly, and as cheaply as possible.” We have all heard variations of that theme enough times to know it creates more problems than it solves. Still, it remains an all too common message employees receive.
The gap between agreement and disagreement won’t go away until you take the other side seriously and they perceive you are doing so. It applies equally to disagreements with coworkers as much as it does at the negotiating table.
When something you read raises a question, don’t be bashful. Give us a call. We can be reached at 346-561-0612, 832-452-8537, or at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also learn more about CDC Integrated Services by visiting our website at www.cdci-mediation.com
Food for thought: Beyond the precise meaning found in a dictionary, judgment is more than just the ability to make good decisions about what needs doing. It begins by thinking carefully and critically, which are skills that come through practice. You cannot acquire them by going to a conference or a seminar.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays
We at CDC Integrated Services wish to take a moment to thank everyone who chose us to aid them with the issues brought to us during the past year. We are grateful for your business and wish all of our clients a safe and peaceful new year.
Peace and Goodwill to all.
From Jerry Cooper and the CDCI team
“People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do”. (Isaac Asimov)
Mediators who do not allow the principle of self-determination to guide the mediation’s outcome will risk seeing that mediation fail.
Mr. Mark Baer, a mediator who writes interesting articles, posted a recent study about mediation and shared it with us on his LinkedIn page. The study focused on family law mediation in California, and the data developed as part of that study identified an interesting fact. In the state of California the field is saturated with retired judges and attorneys. Having wrapped up their legal career these judges and attorneys turned to mediation as a second career.
I found several other facts in this study to be interesting as well. Their careers and experiences did not prepare them on how to use mediation effectively. The study reinforced the basic fact that good mediation combines skill, training, and experience. The researchers concluded in fairly blunt terms that mediation requires skills that …”judges and lawyers do not possess by virtue of having decided cases in a courtroom…”, and in that state surprisingly few retired judges and lawyers have any formal mediation training.
The study further disclosed that there is a higher instance of these mediators pressing or directing the parties in these mediations towards a preferred or suggested outcome, such that a higher number of mediations didn’t hold up, and the parties to a dispute reverted back to litigation. It confirmed what I had seen at an anecdotal level. The dry nature of the data understates the burdens these failures place on those who find themselves back in court
Mr. Baer has written before about the risks attorneys run when they, under the guise of mediation, begin to subjectively evaluate the actions and positions of the parties and attempt to lead to or suggest a particular settlement. It is a risk that I have written about as well in my posts.
A successful mediation changes the perceptions and relationships of the parties in dispute. It breaks down the distrust that the parties have towards each other, and helps rebuild trust. Successful mediations encourage the parties to decide the outcome(s) they want through consensus by using the process provided by the mediator.
When the process is set in motion correctly, the parties are able to step away from entrenched positions and it allows them to look at alternatives; and looking at alternative solutions is at the heart of successful mediations.
The message here is to think carefully about how you choose a mediator or a third-party neutral to assist in resolving any potential dispute. Ultimately, you need to have confidence in the outcome of any negotiation, and be well satisfied that it sets things back in balance to the point you can move forward.
We at CDCI follow this principle and encourage you to contact us if you have any questions. You can reach us at 832-452-8537, or contact us through email@example.com. We also respond to texts messages.
Much of what I do as a mediator involves disputes between companies, employee disputes, intra and inter-organizational disputes, and disputes between individuals. I have mediated disputes between individuals and companies often vendors they did business with. When it comes to divorce mediation, I turn down most of those requests such that this type of mediation is less than 15% of my work.
It therefore something of a surprise that I was approached last year to mediate a dispute involving a blended family, and from that experience I have since been approached to assist in several other disputes, all of which involve disputes within a blended family environment.
Unlike divorce mediation where the mediator is tasked with assisting couples bring to closure a relationship which was destroyed and deal with the aftermath and its impact on children, the dynamics of blended families is underpinned by hope. Here are people trying to build a new family structure for themselves and the children they now share with their former partners. The families I have assisted want very much for their new family structure to work, for their children to be happy and to feel safe in the new environment.
I think what I enjoy best about this new aspect of my practice is how willing the parents are to do everything they can to make things work for the children. I do not diminish the obstacles the parents face in a blended family and I have made it clear to the parents that solving the more immediate issues is not the end of their journey. The children especially need a way of voicing their concerns and fears, and they need to do that with the support of a trained professional. But what is really rewarding is the pleasure and sense of accomplishment the new parents gain by climbing out from under the anger, frustration, and uncertainty about doing the wrong thing. The biggest thing they have to learn is that the best solutions begin with small steps. The children cannot be expected to immediately love the new mother or the new father, but it is a major step forward if the children like being around the new parent.
I have treaded very carefully in this new environment, and so far the feedback has been positive.