Friday, 28 November 2014

How easy is whistleblowing?

We have heard endless serious mischief within parts of the banking sector with no solution in sight that quite frankly could pull us all down. The debate often mentions whistleblowing as a type of solution to part of the problem. Let’s see if we can diverge deeper into this debate. The idea of whistleblowing is not a novel one. It is simply someone blowing the whistle behind the scenes confronting a situation that is either deemed as unethical or carries long term detrimental effect following a type of misconduct affecting or harming others and the reputation of the firm. Once something detrimental comes out into the open, well something can be done about it, improved, changed or disciplined before it is too late. This sounds like how we were brought up as children and in the end pretty straight forward does it not?

As easy as this may sound, unfortunately these situations are sadly far more complicated as many adults still remain or become rebellious children. Let’s take a hypothetical example. You suspect that someone close to you in the company that you work for is defrauding another party in a business deal. It is a large deal, and encompasses a large amount of immediate profit for the company in question. The person (Let’s call him Johnny du Little) involved in this transaction is wealthy and successful or seemingly so and has a strong personality. A slightly chubby fellow wearing spectacles. He is also very high up the hierarchical ladder, in a position of responsibility and has many friends in high places or at least gives that impression with a small herd of so called followers. Take note crooks are generally mistrustful of others and don’t have many friends or it so happens they are very clever at pretending to make friends with a few key people such as the accountant or lawyer, the regulator or tax collector and even the lender or investor. This is just so Johnny feels well protected.

At this point in time you suspect fraud and are 99 % certain. You feel helpless, trapped as you are not as successful and slightly lower down the food chain plus you have fewer allies. In other words you feel in a position of weakness and not of strength. What do you do? Do you go along with it and become an accomplice or do you turn a blind eye and walk away? What if this person happens to be your boss?

These are very difficult situations neither of which are ideal as a combination of fear and palpable stress creeps in as most likely job security remains on the balance.

Let’s see if we can enlighten further pointers into this scenario by turning this into a kind of fiction as you decide to do something in which you have your reasons.

First of all find an ally. He can be a colleague a kind of person you trust that you can bounce off with. The point here is that by having an ally will encourage you to help alleviate your own fears. Ideally this ally is in a stronger position or furthermore pretends to be a confidante of Johnny's. It becomes a game. Call it the shadow game. Therefore write down conversations and pick up evidence in this game, for you have now gone into battle and knowing your enemy is paramount. Challenge Johnny in a clever way. It will arouse his suspicions yet not to worry as the last thing Johnny will expect, is to be double crossed. Meet your ally in outside places you are likely not to be noticed to discuss strategy. Be patient and above all calm, as there is a saying in battle ‘Wait until you see the white of the eye.’ The moment has to be right before you make your move. Johnny will make mistakes. They often do as they are blinded by their own arrogance or greed. Johnny could even be proud in what he is doing as you pick up more evidence that affirm your own suspicions. 

You make your move. As Johnny is higher up the food chain, the best move to make is go higher up than Johnny and report his or her misconduct, knowing that your job is at stake. This is the risk you are prepared to take to do what is right as it is highly possible that at this point Johnny becomes very suspicious of you and will do everything in his power to get rid of you. This is good as Johnny has no evidence, just hearsay, and the higher the suspicions, the more irrational, threatening, paranoid, or even dictatorial Johnny becomes whilst he slowly feels the noose around his own neck. The stakes get higher as above Johnny, people may also be fearful what with litigation and confidentiality issues and so on yet it is important you fall onto someone you perceive, has the right amount of integrity and authority to do something about it. The story may involve further shadow games as you develop one or two more key allies as you may lose your job and so on….and yet together in your tight nit group you stick to your guns….

Do you get the picture? Not easy is it. Let me make it plain. Whistle blowing is not for the fainthearted. Look at this person Alayne Fleischmann an ex JP Morgan Chase securities lawyer although if true, perhaps she could have been a little more clevere about it. If the CEO of JP Morgan Chase and his motley crew whose behaviour are made out to be sociopathic as reflected in both articles, well they need to be held accountable with the possibility of licences revoked from conducting business here in Europe. I would support this lady wholeheartedly. Fortunately legal protection is under discussion in some governments to encourage more people to come forward.

The higher the stakes, the higher the risk I suppose, yet the action remains the same albeit if you were part of a small organisation or a larger one. If you feel uncomfortable with all this, take light from this story. During his meeting with Hitler, the Finnish Field Marshall Mannerheim lit a cigar. Mannerheim supposed that Hitler would ask Finland for help against the Soviet Union, which Mannerheim was unwilling to give. When Mannerheim lit up, all in attendance gasped, for Hitler's aversion to smoking was well known. Yet Hitler continued the conversation calmly, with no comment. In this way, Mannerheim could judge if Hitler was speaking from a position of strength or weakness. He was able to refuse Hitler, knowing that Hitler was in a weak position, and could not dictate to him.

Another way to look at it, is fast forward a few years. The biggest financial cover up in history had been unmasked practically causing the entire financial system to collapse, in which plenty of people are put on trial with many facing prison sentences. You were there as a banker and did nothing perhaps even remained an accomplice in hiding and will regret this for the rest of your life. Or you did something by averting this disaster, as you look back in hindsight. Well it was not that bad was it and moreover it changed my life forever? Which path would you choose?

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