The CIO's Role in Ethics & Customer Trust

Sara Peters, Editor in Chief | 3/15/2012 | 4 comments

Sara Peters
A Goldman Sachs executive resigned in outstandingly public fashion Wednesday and lambasted the investment bank in a zesty op-ed post in the New York Times. Greg Smith, who was Goldman Sachs' executive director and head of the US equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, wrote:

I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it. To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money...
I truly believe that this decline in the firm’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.

Smith's op-ed has been covered, discussed, supported, dismissed, and mocked. There are certainly plenty of lessons to be learned from his actions and his words -- lessons about how to treat employees and customers, how to mentor young staff, how to broaden the definition of a disaster, and why you should incorporate public relations into your disaster recovery plan.

CIOs should give consideration to all those topics. However, in this piece, I'd like to talk about what this event might teach us about the CIO's responsibility when it comes to maintaining corporate ethics and customer trust.

Time and time again, I hear people on E2 and elsewhere say trust is fundamental to financial services. I confess that I smirk every time I hear it. There are different kinds of customer trust -- for example, trust that the company is keeping one's personal data secure and safe from prying eyes, and trust that the company is honestly working to improve one's personal finances.

Earning customers' trust by securing their personal data is obviously part of the CIO's job. And from the looks of it, financial services CIOs are doing a great job of this. Banks are often the first organizations to institute rigorous security practices and deploy cutting-edge security tools.

Customers of financial services trust those organizations to keep their personal data safe. However, as we've discussed before, the customers don't assume the organization is honestly serving their best interests. This is certainly how I feel personally. I don't fear banking online, but I do (perhaps unfairly) fear that all investment bankers follow the "greed is good" credo and aim to destroy me with bad advice and a million tiny fees. To hear Greg Smith tell it, this fear and mistrust is completely warranted.

It makes me ill how callously people [at Goldman] talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets.”

What role do you, the CIO, play in squashing that corporate culture and earning customers' trust honestly? Is it your job to look out for the customers' interests and ensure they're being treated ethically?

Yes. Absolutely.

Everyone in an organization -- those in leadership positions in particular -- should take ownership for ethics. The CIO is in a unique position to monitor and even enforce good ethics. Why? You know how data is being used and why, because you're the person setting up the systems. When setting up ways to process big data, you're getting insight into how your company is being run. You may see when customers throw more money into bad investments. You may be part of the internal conversations about how brokers want to manipulate information, and you may be asked to help. Should you step in? Should you raise your voice if you spot something unethical? Should you flatly refuse to help? Should you start instituting technology to monitor how this information is being manipulated by the staff?

During my career, I've seen IT staff respond to ethically questionable requests in different ways. I've seen some shift uncomfortably in their seat and then meekly comply. I've heard others decline requests and come to the defense of customers' privacy or expectations.

Is this more important to CIOs in financial services companies than to other organizations? Possibly. There's a lot of mistrust out there right now in financial services organizations -- as well there should be -- so customer trust is of paramount importance (except at Goldman Sachs, that is). However, ethics are a fundamental part of business and a fundamental part of life. All CIOs should consider it part of their job description.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
impactnow   The CIO's Role in Ethics & Customer Trust   3/20/2012 11:27:55 AM
Re: Hissy Fit or Expose?

Sara you touch on a very salient issue too many don't realize how much access the IT department has to the data for the organization. I have worked in some sensitive businesses and was amazed at how easily employees could access sensitive information in client records. It's very scary. There really needs to be a mandate from the CIO on ethical procedures of data access and the checks and balances in place to bar everyone in IT from accessing sensitive data.

David Wagner   The CIO's Role in Ethics & Customer Trust   3/20/2012 12:06:21 AM
Re: Hissy Fit or Expose?
Sara- I generally agree with you, but unfortunately, people respond to the style as much as the messgae. They have certain expectations of the way certain people talk. I think unfortunately, some people have responded poorly to this just because they don't expect this kind of talk from someone like this. It matters more than it probably should.
Sara Peters   The CIO's Role in Ethics & Customer Trust   3/19/2012 12:14:33 PM
Re: Hissy Fit or Expose?
@Dave  I'm not going to argue that CIOs need to keep their cool. But sometimes somebody's got to stand up, speak up, be righteously indignant, and do their damnedest to put a stop to things. And why shouldn't a CIO fill that role? I'm calling this case an "expose" not a "hissy fit." 
David Wagner   The CIO's Role in Ethics & Customer Trust   3/16/2012 2:51:28 PM
Hissy Fit or Expose?
I do agree with you Sara that CIOs and the IT department in general have a great ability (and responsibility) to police ethics. The problem with the guy who inspired the article though is that he threw a big public fit as much as he exposed Goldman Sachs.

i know we're supposed to pay more attention to the message than the delivery.

But it is hard to take a professional seriously when he behaves unprofessionally.

It is much like the Jose Canseco situation in baseball. He told the truth but no one really believed him.

CIOs have a responsibility to police the ethics of their department and the organizaiton, but they also have to keep their cool.

The blogs and comments posted on do not reflect the views of TechWeb,, or its sponsors., TechWeb, and its sponsors do not assume responsibility for any comments, claims, or opinions made by authors and bloggers. They are no substitute for your own research and should not be relied upon for trading or any other purpose.

More Blogs from Sara Peters
Sara Peters   5/30/2014   18 comments
Before I throw my knapsack over my shoulder, head out the door, slouch my way down lonely roads, and try to get a kind stranger to give me a lift to DarkReading, I want to bid a fond adieu ...
Sara Peters   5/7/2014   55 comments
There's a new player in the wearable technology market. While it has a new attitude and a new business plan, it also seems to have new problems that may cause it to miss the mark and the ...
Sara Peters   5/1/2014   32 comments
It's time for an intervention. This addiction to Windows XP has gone too far.
Sara Peters   4/10/2014   21 comments
The race is on to restore trust in the very security tools that are used to ensure online trust. Websites, applications, and services are hastening to patch Heartbleed, a flaw in the ...
Sara Peters   4/4/2014   17 comments
Tablets are becoming more affordable all the time, but they're not so inexpensive that you wouldn't worry if kindergartners treated them with the same care they treat construction paper ...
Latest Archived Broadcast
We talk with Bernard Golden about accelerating application delivery in the cloud.
On-demand Video with Chat
Register for this video discussion to learn how tablets can provide true business usability and productivity.
E2 IT Migration Zones
IT Migration Zone - UK
Why PowerShell Is Important
Reduce the Windows 8 Footprint for VDI
Rethinking Storage Management
IT Migration Zone - FR
SQL Server : 240 To de mémoire flash pour votre data warehouse
Quand Office vient booster les revenus Cloud et Android de Microsoft
Windows Phone : Nokia veut davantage d'applications (et les utilisateurs aussi)
IT Migration Zone - DE
Cloud Computing: Warum Unternehmen trotz NSA auf die „private“ Wolke setzen sollten
Cloud Computing bleibt Wachstumsmarkt – Windows Azure ist Vorreiter
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Enterprise Efficiency Twitter Feed
Site Moderators Wanted
Enterprise Efficiency is looking for engaged readers to moderate the message boards on this site. Engage in high-IQ conversations with IT industry leaders; earn kudos and perks. Interested? E-mail:
Dell's Efficiency Modeling Tool
The major problem facing the CIO is how to measure the effectiveness of the IT department. Learn how Dell’s Efficiency Modeling Tool gives the CIO two clear, powerful numbers: Efficiency Quotient and Impact Quotient. These numbers can be transforma¬tive not only to the department, but to the entire enterprise.

Read the full report
The State of Enterprise Efficiency in the Virtual Era: Virtualization – Smart Approaches to Maximize Gains
Virtualization is a presence in nearly all enterprise data centers. But not all companies are using it to its best effect. Learn the common characteristics of success, what barriers companies face, and how to get the most from your efforts.

Read the full report
Informed CIO: Dollars & Sense: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
Cut through the VDI hype and get the full picture -- including ROI and the impact on your Data Center -- to make an informed decision about your virtual desktop infrastructure deployments.

Read the full report
A Video Case Study – Translational Genomics Research Institute
e2 Video

On the Case
TGen IT: Where We're Going Next

7|11|12   |   08:12   |   10 comments

Now that TGen has broken new ground in genomic research by using Dell's storage, cloud, and high-performance computing solutions, the company discusses what will come next for it and for personalized medicine.
On the Case
Better Care Through Better Communications

6|6|12   |   02:24   |   11 comments

The achievements of the TGen/Dell project could improve how all people receive healthcare, because they are creating ways to improve end-to-end communication of medical data.
On the Case
TGen IT: Where We Are Now

5|15|12   |   06:58   |   6 comments

TGen is breaking new ground in genomic research by using Dell's storage, cloud, and high-performance computing solutions.
On the Case
TGen IT: Where We Were

4|27|12   |   06:45   |   10 comments

The Translational Genomics Research Institute wanted to save lives, but its efforts were hobbled by immense computing challenges related to collecting, processing, sharing, and storing enormous amounts of data.
On the Case
1,200% Faster

4|18|12   |   02:27   |   12 comments

Through their partnership, Dell and TGen have increased the speed of TGen’s medical research by 1,200 percent.
On the Case
IT May Improve Children's Chances of Survival

4|17|12   |   02:12   |   8 comments

IT is helping medical researchers reach breakthroughs in a way and pace never seen before.
On the Case
Medical Advances in the Cloud

4|10|12   |   1:25   |   5 comments

TGen and Dell are pushing the boundaries of computing, and harnessing the power of the cloud to improve healthcare.
On the Case
TGen: Living the Mission

4|9|12   |   2:25   |   3 comments

TGen's CIO puts the organizational mission at the heart of everything the IT staff does.
On the Case
TGen Speeding Up Biomedical Research to Save More Lives

4|5|12   |   1:59   |   6 comments

The Translational Genomics Research Institute is revamping its computing to improve speed, storage, and collaboration – and, most importantly, to save lives.
On the Case
Computing Power Helping to Save Children's Lives

3|28|12   |   2:13   |   3 comments

The Translational Genomics Institute’s partnership with Dell is enabling them to treat kids with neuroblastoma more quickly and save more lives.
Tom Nolle
The Big Reason to Use Office

3|18|14   |   02:24   |   46 comments

Office and personal productivity tools come in a first-class and coach flavor set, but what makes the difference is primarily little things that most users won't encounter. What's the big issue in using something other than Office, and can you get around it?
E2 Editors
SPONSORED: Mobile Security — A Use Case

3|4|14   |   04:27   |   16 comments

New mobile security solutions can accommodate a wide array of needs, including those of a complex university environment.
Tom Nolle
Killing Net Neutrality Might Save You Money

1|16|14   |   2:13   |   16 comments

The DC Court of Appeals voided most of the Neutrality Order, and whatever it might mean for the Internet overall, it might mean better and cheaper Internet VPNs for businesses.
Tom Nolle
The Internet of Everythinguseful

1|10|14   |   2:18   |   19 comments

We really don't want an "Internet of Everything" but even building an Internet of Everythinguseful means setting some ground rules to insure there's value in the process and that costs and risks are minimized.
Tom Nolle
Maturing Google Chrome

12|30|13   |   2.18   |   25 comments

Google's Chrome OS has a lot of potential value and a lot of recent press, but it still needs something to make it more than a thin client. It needs cloud integration, it needs extended APIs via web services, and it needs to suck it up and support a hard drive.
Sara Peters
No More Cookie-Cutter IT

12|23|13   |   03.58   |   21 comments

Creating the right combination of technology, people, and processes for your IT organization is a lot like baking Christmas cookies.
Sara Peters
Smart Wigs Not a Smart Idea

12|5|13   |   3:01   |   46 comments

Sony is seeking a patent for wigs that contain computing devices.
Tom Nolle
Cloud in the Wild

12|4|13   |   02:23   |   15 comments

On a recent African trip I saw examples of the value of the cloud in developing nations, for educational and community development programs. We could build on this, but not only in developing economies, because these same programs are often under-supported even in first-world countries.
E2 Editors
SPONSORED: Is Malware Evading Your IPS?

11|18|13   |   03:16   |   4 comments

Intrusion prevention software is supposed to detect and block malware intrusions, but clever malware authors can evade your IPS in these five main ways.
Sara Peters
Where Have All the Mentors Gone?

9|27|13   |   3:15   |   38 comments

A good professional mentor can change your life for the better... but where do you find one?
Tom Nolle
SDN Wars & You Could Win

9|17|13   |   2:10   |   5 comments

VMware's debate with Cisco on SDN might finally create a fusion between an SDN view that's all about software and another that's all about network equipment. That would be good for every enterprise considering the cloud and SDN.
Ivan Schneider
The Future of the Smart Watch

9|12|13   |   3:19   |   39 comments

Wearing a bulky, oversized watch is good training for the next phase in wristwatches: the Internet-enabled, connected watch. Why the smartphone-tethered connected watch makes sense, plus Ivan demos an entirely new concept for the "smart watch."
Tom Nolle
Cutting Your Cloud Storage Costs

9|4|13   |   2:06   |   3 comments

Cloud storage costs are determined primarily by the rate at which files are changed and the possibility of concurrent access/update. If you can structure your storage use to optimize these factors you can cut costs, perhaps to zero.
Sara Peters
Do CIOs Need an IT Background?

8|29|13   |   2:11   |   23 comments

Most of the CIOs interviewed in the How to Become a CIO series did not start their careers as IT professionals. So is an IT background essential?
Ivan Schneider
The Internet Loves Birthdays

8|27|13   |   3:25   |   69 comments

The Internet has evolved into a machine for drumming up a chorus of "Happy Birthday" messages, from family, friends, friends of friends who you added on Facebook, random people that you circled on G+, and increasingly, automated bots. Enough already.