Analysis Of Wells Fargo Case From A Deontology Normative Theory Prospective

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This essay is an ethical reasoning analysis from a deontology normative theory prospective on what went wrong at Wells Fargo Bank in the years leading up to the debacle in September of 2016, and what they could have done to stop it from happening in the first place and into the future.

On September 8, 2016, Wells Fargo came under vast scrutiny, by many an entity such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Los Angeles City Attorney, and the Office of the Comptroller of Currency to uncover a company wide scandal.At the time of this scandal, Wells Fargo’s vision statements and values, they claimed to abide by, were based in an ethical theory called Deontology. Their motto statements, which were the linchpin of their entire company, were, Wells Fargo “…strives to set the standard among the world’s great companies for integrity and principled performance.”Their second motto was, “We value what’s right for our customers in everything we do.” Turned out that these statements were just another tag line rather than a motto, or ethos considering it soon came to light that their employees had been fraudulently opening accounts, approximately two million accounts, on behalf of unwitting customer’s, and going so far as to faking customer signatures, all to obtain their strict sales goals, sales goals which were set by higher management, the official decision makers. To further understand what makes Wells Fargo’s mission statements hypocritical, their ethical perspective, deontology, must first be explained. The normative theory of deontology, deontology being the Greek word for duty (Seven Pillars Institute), is a rule-based theory of right from wrong (Ethics Unwrapped). Its main principle is that individuals’ must act in accordance to a certain set of rules and principles, regardless of the consequences in order to be considered ethical. In other words, people must simply follow rules, and do their duty (Ethics Unwrapped).

Another way of saying this, is that deontology does not judge the act upon the result, or consequence. This philosophy essentially makes decision making easier because by simply following a set of moral / ethical rules, subjectivity and/or doubt from any decision are removed (Ethics Unwrapped). An example of this would be killing someone in self-defense. Even though it may save your life, the act itself is wrong, thus unethical and goes against the ethical code of deontology, therefore one should not kill a person in self-defense, even if it means they possibly get killed themselves. Obviously, deontology followed to the tee, may not be such a good moral stance for all situations, but in Wells Fargo’s case it would have been beneficial in most to all instances, keeping the company from committing a multitude of fraudulent acts.

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To further explain, deontology from another perspective we must discuss Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher, who in layman terms, believed that if you would feel ok having an audience see your actions, and those actions becoming a standard for society, then the activity you are performing is ethical. A great analogy for this from Business Ethics by Ferrell, Fraedrich, and Ferrell, was to imagine people barrowing money, promising to pay it back, but never do so. Lending facilities would stop lending money because no one would keep their word to pay the money back. Thus, society would most likely reject this unethical norm because society requires lending. To put it more simply, Kant believed ethics are structured around universal moral laws such as: “Don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t cheat.” In a way, deontology is similar to the Golden Rule, “Do on to other’s as you would have done on to you.”

Additionally, Deontologists believe all people should be given the same level of respect. They also believe that there are limits to what should be done to reach a goal as discussed in the self-defense scenario in the previous paragraph. Going back to the Wells Fargo case with demonology defined, we will take a look at how a deontologist might have perceived, and approached the Wells Fargo situation. Furthermore, determine what they should have done differently, and what they should do into the future.

To start this analyzation, we will revisit what exactly went wrong from a deontologists’ position. As stated before, in short, the reason someone acts a certain way is ultimately the determinant of right or wrong for a deontologist, not the outcome of that action. Therefore, the actions of the Wells Fargo employees fraudulently opening accounts for customers without their permission would be considered unethical, no matter the consequences they were most likely to face if they hadn’t reached their sales goals. The main concerning consequences for the employees were denial of a pay raise and/or termination. Regardless, of the positive effects for everyone, particularly those who stood a chance of retaliation, the act still would not have justified the means from a deontologists’ point of view. This same view would be carried over to the executive employees as well, such as the managers who enforced the sale goal requirements, and regional manager who set those goals to begin with. There was an obvious, deliberate lack of ethical awareness by all parties involved, form the subordinates, to the branch managers, and up. The very definition of ethical awareness is the willingness and ability to identify unethical situations, which they all ignored.

All in all, Wells Fargo’s employee’s, both lower and higher rungs, disregarded any ethical awareness they had as this fraudulent catastrophe couldn’t have happened any other way. All in all, a deontologist analyzing the Wells Fargo fraud case would most likely recommend modifying its sales goal attainment strategy to focusing more on educating the customer on what products and services they can provide to them, rather than force selling specific products and services that customers don’t need or want. This in a nutshell would eliminat the employee’s desperation to succeed at obtaining their unrealistic sales goals.

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