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Posted by:
Jodi O'Callaghan

What would you do? Your weekly ethical dilemma challenge

A colleague has recently prepared a new spreadsheet which is used to produce a weekly report for the bank’s liquidity committee. You are responsible for updating the underlying data which feeds into the spreadsheet to produce the report. 

You have just submitted this week’s report when you notice a small error in some formulas. You are sure that the error is not materially impacting the reported figures for this week. Several worksheets will need to be changed to sort out the spreadsheet and, with checking, this will take at least four hours to complete.

The committee meeting is scheduled for early tomorrow, with the report due this afternoon. You have several other looming deadlines. It’s 4pm, and you’ve got an industry event to attend with your team at 7pm.

What would you do? What ethical considerations would you give to your decision-making? Why? Why not? 

We encourage you to post your answers in the comments so we can create a healthy discussion, with the aim of learning from our peers, becoming aware of differing perspectives and challenging our own biases.

If you would like to submit an ethical dilemma to feature in an upcoming weekly challenge please email: dilemma@thebfo.org  

Photo by Thanos Pal on Unsplash


Andrew Rutherford on Wednesday, 13 Mar 2019
The response to this needs to have two dimensions. The first is the tactical response: let the Committee know that a question has been raised about the accuracy of the data in the reports but is being worked on but cannot be resolved prior to the meeting. We do not believe the problem causes any material mis-statement however a fresh report will be circulated as soon as the issue has been fully resolved. The second dimension of the response has to be more strategic: what process and system changes are required to remove (or at least significantly reduce) the risk of human error. Spreadsheets are wonderfully flexible and quick but they are also very prone to error and impossible to audit. If this report is important (and liquidity is kinds of important to banks!), then either an investment needs to be made into a more robust and auditable system for producing reports, or there needs to be a 2 or even 3 pairs of eyes manual review process to ensure integrity in formulas as well as data entry. Given the importance, you might even have two different people perform the same calculations and inputs - to make sure their answers are the same. If you don't address this second dimension, the problem WILL recur and may not be picked up next time with possibly major consequences.
Shaun Tatnell on Tuesday, 12 Mar 2019
I agree with the other responses. Considering it is likely to be immaterial, it is for an internal meeting with corrected figures available within 24hrs, I would preovide guidance to the meeting members of the issue to be taken in context. However, if the '4 hours' to correct the error is only required by 1 person (instead of whole team), I would consider the possibility of correcting it. The important thing here is to speak up with transparency.
TJ on Tuesday, 12 Mar 2019
I would share the discovery with my immediate people leader, colleagues and key compliance & risk contacts and convene a huddle to agree the best approach to digging in to understand the problem over the next few hours. Once anchored (ideally in the next 60 mins) I would provide visibility to the chair of the committee by COB on the error and immediate plan of attack for the evening, with a view that an update will be provided in the meeting on initial progress, scope of issue and next steps. These next steps would include a recommendation for logging it in the bank risk management system given the error indicates that the current controls are not adequate. Myself and several key team members would not attend the industry event, and instead a smaller party from our team will represent the business. Ethical considerations * The flow-on impact of decisions that are made from this data in the committee meeting each month are not fully known to me. Whilst I don't think it is material I can't be sure. * The uncertainty of the size of the problem and the duration the problem has been impacting the data is uncomfortable. Compounding impacts can be far greater than imagined and at this stage it is unknown whether there are minor errors on minor errors that add up to a big deviation. * How the bank manages its Liquidity position and strategy is a critical element of the bank's operations and the risks are significant. This is no small issue. * The likely importance for key stakeholders to surface this issue swiftly and calmly as well as quickly ascertain the scale of the error. * The opportunity to get the best use from the resources committed to attend the meeting in the morning - the meeting will likely not function with the planned agenda given this news and more information allows this group to invest this time in agreeing what steps to take to manage it. * The code of conduct, obligations and community context all leading to the importance of being accountable and transparent especially regarding errors - and fixing them quickly and accurately - and where required publicly. * The recognition that a risk and compliance lens will be valuable and that my team and I may have blind spots and a strong bias to find why the mistake is less material. The process needs to be robust and I want help to ensure it is so we can contribute our best work on a tight timeframe. * The relative consequences of not attending the industry forum vs getting the data right - opportunity cost, impact on the team / morale etc vs. team's reputation in the market and internally.
Snake Plissken on Tuesday, 12 Mar 2019
Run with the current report as is but for transparency let committee know about error and a revised report will be circulated when available
BC on Tuesday, 12 Mar 2019
It is probably too late to ensure it is rectified for the meeting. Given its purpose and likely impact on others the committee would probably be happier that thorough checking has been done, versus a sticky tape solution just to meet a deadline. I would flag the issue with the colleague, my manager, and the committee outlining: i) the impact, and ii) the remediation plan including when it will be resolved.
BERNIE LLOYD on Tuesday, 12 Mar 2019
As it is not material I would let the spread sheets stand. But, at the meeting the next morning, I would begin by explaining the error and advise that I will be adjusting them and sending the corrected figures around within 24 hours. At the heart of my thinking would be the question: What ought one do? I would be at pains to explain that, under normal circumstances, I would have spent the 4 hours on correcting the document but my team had to participate in the industry event for significant reasons. Even in ethical decision making people need to be able to own up to errors and learn from them rather that feverishly working all night. it reveals you as a sensible person who will own up to errors and ensure they do not happen again. It builds a trusting culture where to be fallible is okay as long as you are honest and follow up on your promises.
Brett Moorcroft on Tuesday, 12 Mar 2019
If its not material - I would provide estimates (which I must have come up with to judge this non-materiality) to my manager along with the report and discuss the findings with him/her and how best to proceed to fix the report for next week. Also discuss the previous reports and assess what to report to the liquidity committee for the possible errors to previous reports.

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