We Are All To Be Blamed
By TAN Kee Wee
(MediaCorp 938LIVE’s Money Talks, Thursday, 23 October
2008, 7.50 am and 7.20 pm)
About forty years ago, on 16 March 1968, in the middle
of the US-Vietnam War, a horrible incident happened which has
since been known as the My Lai massacre.
On that day, as many as 500 unarmed Vietnamese
civilians in the village of My Lai, were massacred by US
soldiers. The scale of the massacre spiraled as it progressed,
and its brutality increased with each killing.
Three years later in 1971, in a widely-publicized
court martial, 2Lt William Calley, the platoon commander who
led Charlie Company into My Lai, was the only person found
guilty of the massacre.
The whole massacre was presented to the American
public as the misguided actions of Lt Calley. Naturally, the
public was shocked, and many vented their anger and disgust at
Today, Singaporeans are gripped by an issue which,
although no lives have been lost, many find very disgusting.
This is the mis-selling of investment products to financially
It’s easy to think that the fault lies squarely on the
relationship managers, or RMs, who mis-sold these products. The
reality may be very different.
To satisfy the public’s disgust, perhaps a RM could
soon be charged in court for mis-selling. It would be
interesting to find out the thoughts of one of these RMs.
Actually, we don’t need to wait at all. That’s because a former
RM has already confessed in a blog on 24th
In her blog, this former RM said that she and her
colleagues were constantly pressured to sell products which
their bank was pushing, and had already committed to another
Sales figures of all RMs had to be reported regularly.
Those who could not achieve their targets were forced to
explain to senior management. The experience was very
humiliating, she went on to say.
All banks and their RMs are supposed to assess the
customers’ suitability for any investment product before it is
sold to them. But this rule, according to the former RM, was
seldom applied. The rule was only useful to protect the bank
against lawsuits. So there we have it. RMs may not be solely
responsible for the mis-selling.
Going back to the My Lai massacre, Lt Calley, in his
own defense, claimed that he was only following orders. Few
believed him then. But Lt Calley’s claim was in fact the
Last year, declassified US Army documents proved that
the My Lai massacre was indeed more than the actions of a few
rogue soldiers. In fact, the whole operation was meticulously
planned, and the orders came from senior officers who were
Just as Lt Calley was pressured by his superiors to
perform the wartime atrocities, it’s very likely that many RMs
were also forced by their superiors to perform their financial
Should we blame the CEOs of banks then? We could. But
if we continued along this path, we would end up blaming
ourselves. Because CEOs of banks ultimately report to
shareholders, like you and I, who are always demanding more
profit. The truth is, we also had a hand in the
We have created a system whereby, through the
“division of labour”, we bank shareholders have delegated the
dirty job of mis-selling to RMs. In Lt Calley’s case, a system
had been created whereby, for peace and prosperity to exist in
a state, the dirty job of dealing with the enemies of the state
had been delegated to soldiers.
Unless a revolution is desired, the system cannot
change. People in power will continue to order and tell us
subordinates what to do. We cannot do anything about it. But we
can remember that, how so ever we are told to do, or by whom,
our souls are in our keeping alone.
In the end, when we stand before our Maker, can we say
“But I was told by others to do this”? Can we say “I did this
because virtue was not convenient at the time”? These excuses
may not suffice.