I have several friends–OMG’s all–who work in the financial sector, most managing portfolios of established families and high net worth individuals. Once a year, usually at the end of the summer, they try to get together, soak up some shade (they’re a shockingly pale bunch, for some reason) and commiserate about the state of the global affairs as it relates to preserving and growing their clients’ money.
They don’t pretend it’s a noble endeavor: they’d be out on the sidewalk in a heartbeat if they didn’t make their clients a respectable return on investment. They do, however, share a sense of sadness at the lack of ethics that seems to pervade their industry, and society as a whole.
On an almost daily basis, they are privy to insider information, which, if acted upon, could result in enormous profits for them, their clients, or their friends. None of these professionals even considered taking advantage of this information, unlike many of their colleagues. When this topic was discussed, the legality of the issue was never raised. Obviously, heavy financial penalties and even prison time loom large for such risks, as we’ve all seen with the recent Wall Street scandals.
Less egregious, but still not wholly above-board practices were discussed, which, though technically legal, were dismissed out of hand by the group.
The word ethics was never mentioned. Euphemisms seemed to drape the concept like a worn but sturdy canvas that might protect a pristine, vintage automobile: “not an option”, “wouldn’t consider that,” and the familiar reference to a “slippery slope”. Shakes of the head and shrugs of the shoulders dismissed behavior that others might engage in, like dust being brushed off that same sturdy old canvas. They would have no part of it.
In this regard, they were truly above the law: their conduct did not simply hobble inches above what was legal; it soared in the realm of what was best, what was proper, and what was right.
There was surely a fatigue that accompanies such a lonely choice, but they wear it well. Worry and regret, familiar handmaidens of ill-gotten gains, would be foreign concepts to this circle of friends.
They would live by their unwritten code and be just fine.