Cooperatives and Business Ethics

On August 2, Credit Union Times reporter Jim DuPlessis published a followup story to Colorado Partners Credit Union’s (CPCU) sale of its cannabis CUSO business Safe Harbor.

The main news was that CPCU reported a $10 million dollar loss in the second quarter on top of a $40 million first quarter deficit, thus wiping out any gains from what was  announced as a $185 million sale of the business in 2022.

When asked about the $10 million, second quarter increase in salaries and benefits, the article quotes the CEO Doug Fagan:

“The loss in Q2 was due to the final pieces of contractual deal expenses that were not recognizable, per GAAP, until the second quarter. I am not at liberty to disclose any further information on those expenses,” Fagan wrote. “We did not have any write downs in Q2 that were directly related to the sale of Safe Harbor.”

The question is who received the $10 million?  For what contractual obligation?  After $50 million in losses, there is more than money at stake.  This is about the integrity and accountability to the member-owners by CPCU’s board and management of a deal gone bad.

Are Coops More Ethical?

This situation reminded me of a Financial Times November 6, 2013 article following the failure and restructuring of The Cooperative Bank in Great Britain.  The following excerpt suggests business ethics are not as simple as doing the right thing.

“Honest is the best policy, but he who is governed by that maxim is not an honest man.”  Richard Whately, Archbishop of Dublin, was a 19th Century theologian, but the observation is very relevant to the modern debate about the nature of business ethics.

The Cooperative Bank has just announced a restructuring that wipes out the value of existing equity.  Over many years the message of the bank’s advertising has been its aspiration to higher standards of ethical conduct than its competitors. The devil’s advocates might seize on the bank’s financial problems as evidence that honesty does not pay, but that s not what happened here.

The Coop Bank failed for the usual reason banks and businesses fail-bad lending in commercial property and the misguided acquisition  of another business by management whose ambitions exceeded their abilities. . .

Ethics are about what to do when good behavior and profitable business are not necessarily the same thing.

Bishop Whately noted the difference between the honest man and the man for who honesty is the best policy.  When you deal with the man for whom honesty is the best policy, you never know when it might be the occasion on which honest is no longer the best policy.

Bankers, not bishops, deliver lectures extolling their own personal integrity; the man who repeatedly reminds us how honest he is rarely acquires, or deserves our trust.   The integrity we value is a personal or organizational characteristic, not a business strategy.”



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