LAWRENCE — To some observers, “financial ethics” is a contradiction in terms. Or even worse, a myth.
University of Kansas lecturer Kara Tan Bhala understands that perception. But she doesn’t think it has to be that way.
“The problem is, finance has lost its purpose,” said Tan Bhala, lecturer in the KU School of Business and founder of the nonprofit Seven Pillars Institute for Global Finance and Ethics. “The purpose of finance is to help people save, manage and raise money in a way that improves individual lives and society as a whole. Unfortunately, some people in finance have lost sight of that.”
That premise has led Tan Bhala to launch a new online video training series on business ethics. The series, titled “Ethics in Finance is Good!” will have 12 episodes, each about two or three minutes long, and each dedicated to a specific topic in financial ethics. The first video in the series, “Ethics: The Performance Enhancer,” is now available online at the Seven Pillars Institute website.
“Finance has a big problem,” said Tan Bhala, who has more than 20 years of experience in global finance, including a long career on Wall Street as a portfolio manager with Merrill Lynch. “From 1984 through 2008, there were 10 global financial crises, including the 2008 meltdown from which we still haven’t recovered. These crises produced millions of losers and a small handful of winners. And unfortunately, a lack of business ethics has played a role each time.”
Tan Bhala’s series is different from other ethics training in a number of ways. Most notably, her videos are largely in animated form and are more light-hearted, entertaining and punchy than the corporate run-of-the-mill ethics training videos.
“We didn’t want these to be the type of mandatory training videos that students or new employees are required to watch during orientation,” she said. “The videos are meant to engage and educate students and financial professionals and make the topic fun.”
Tan Bhala’s video training series is the first project in a new partnership between Seven Pillars Institute and Queen Mary University of London, one of Europe’s top universities. As part of the partnership, Seven Pillars and QMUL will cross-promote each other’s activities and look for innovative ways to collaborate on financial ethics training and education. For example, Tan Bhala will speak in London at QMUL’s “Open Classes in Ethics” series in January 2014.
Tan Bhala created the Seven Pillars Institute in 2010 with a mission of highlighting and analyzing issues of moral philosophy in global financial markets to enhance ethical practice and policy.
From 1992 to 2001, Tan Bhala was a managing director of Merrill Lynch and the senior portfolio manager of the Merrill Lynch Dragon Fund and Emerging Tigers Fund. At its height, the Dragon Fund was the second-largest Asian ex-Japan mutual fund in the world, with assets over $1 billion. In 1993, the Fund was ranked third among 177 global funds.
Before running the Dragon Fund and Emerging Tigers Fund, Tan Bhala was a portfolio manager with Fiduciary Trust International in New York, where she ran the Far East equity portion of the United Nations Pension Fund. Tan Bhala has lived and worked in London, Singapore, Hong Kong, New York and Washington, D.C.