Can You Go Broke Being Too Ethical? Is Situational Lying a Part of Life?

cpcuWilliam Ieuter, CPCU, CLU, ChFC, AAI, is president of Secure Futures ,Ltd., based in Chicago.

CPCURecently, as president of an independent insurance agency, I have found myself trying to answer those questions.

In our normal competitive business, we continually see questionable ethics being used to write business. And many times, because of these ethical breaches by our competitors, we lose business.

Many of the Ethics Committee’s seminars have dealt with ethical business situations involving the writing of property and casualty business, such as purposely classifying autos in wrong garaging territory, misclassifying workers compensation payroll, hiding past loss history, failure to give the underwriter complete underwriting information, not quoting apples to apples, and so forth.

Our agency has tried to be ethical in all situations because we feel that a customer’s trust is the most important thing we can earn. But, as business continues to “walk out the door” because of unethical competitors, will we go broke?

As I write this article, a big story in the sports world makes me wonder. Cole Hamels, a pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, hit rookie player Bryce Harper in the back with a pitch during a game. After the game, Hamels told reporters that he did it on purpose—“to welcome Bryce to the big leagues.”

Because of his admission, he received a five game suspension. Since Hamels makes millions of dollars, a five game suspension is costly. Immediately, various members of the media opined that if he hadn’t been honest, he wouldn’t have been suspended. Just say the “pitch slipped.”

Steve Rushin, a sports writer and author, spoke out to say that Hamels was not very smart and that “situational lying is part of life.”

Wow! That’s new to me. Just what is a “situational lie”? Is it a little white lie, or is it a whopper? Who determines whether a situational lie is part of life, or a totally unethical and wrong thing to do?

When we lose a piece of business because our competitor lied, is that just part of life?

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge—popularized by Eric Idle in his Monty Python days in the early 1970s—seems to becoming more popular. With a wink of my eye and a nudge with my elbow you will understand that what I am saying is not really true. It’s just part of life.

However, my quandary has a happy ending. A business account we had lost to another agent just called. “I should have trusted you.” Seems the other agent didn’t include business interruption coverage in his quote. And after a fire, his restaurant was out of business for two weeks. It didn’t take a wink or a nudge to get our business back.

And now we’re not going broke.

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