Always Be Discreet

On 01/13/2011, in Career, Professionalism, by Jordan Wilson

This amusing story from Above the Law serves as a reminder about discretion in business.

The tales are always amusing. At least until they involve you.

As a public accountant, periodically we would get emails with examples similar to Acela Bob.

Avoid a CLM

Usually accountants talking on the subway, in a restaurant, at a sporting event, etc. about an audit client. And, of course, the client’s employee, wife, friend of the president, etc. was always sitting just within earshot.

Or the lawyer or auditor who left his briefcase filled with client files at the bar after a few drinks on a Friday evening.

These are what we called CLMs.

Career limiting moves.

Confidentiality in business or client affairs is crucial if you want to survive in many professions. Clients demand it and businesses expect it from all staff.

Swiss Banking

In Switzerland, confidentiality is built into most banking employment contracts and breaches may be prosecuted.

In my Swiss banking career, I can think of many instances when I could not disclose information even to my immediate subordinates.

In one case, I was doing due diligence on a potential acquisition and was in London, England on July 7, 2005. The day of the London bombings. Many staff and friends had no idea I was there at the time. And with the mobile lines completely clogged, it was very difficult for our team to let people know we were okay.

In another case, a colleague was conducting due diligence on a company based on a certain island where our firm also had an office. He was walking down the main street one day and saw an employee from the local office. Being more strict than me, he pretended not to know the guy and just kept walking with his head down.

In the end, it was quite humorous. My colleague was like a ghost. There were many N*** sightings on the island over a two week period, but never positive confirmation by anyone that he was actually there.

Anyone Can Be Guilty

Anyone can make a mistake. But in cases where confidentiality is breached, I find that it tends towards two employee classes.

Young employees, who have not yet learned the art of discretion, are often guilty parties. So be careful when starting out in business. Always err on the side of paranoia.

The other employee class that often creates breaches is the very senior staff. In certain senior staffers, there is a level of narcissism and invincibility that leads to making their own rules.

Of course, not all senior managers are prone to gaffes. Most are not.

But in my time, I have known a few Acela Bobs.

Regardless of your position in the business world, be very discreet.

If so, you will reduce the odds of making a CLM.

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