Bankers' "Vulnerability Index": scoring employees' desperation


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I’ve never heard of this before, but it’s been a while since I was part of a conventional corporate structure. Is it a one-off, or is this the new normal?


I’d guess it’s becoming the new normal? Perhaps it goes along with the push to end unions as a practical force in the American workforce more broadly since the end of the Cold War.


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Even though this is believable to me, how reliable is this? I mean, this a blog where someone says he talked to a guy who said it was true?


It’s exactly the inverse of what a union should be doing for those employees.


Well TD is one of the big 5 ‘Charter’ banks here in Canada. They are legally protected from competition (though more tightly regulated than their American cousins - not for lack of trying).

I gave up on all the charter banks 15 years ago in favour of a credit union and have never regretted it once. Vancity specifically has won the ‘best employer in the country’ award a number of times.


This is of course terrible to us normals, but according to modern business ethics to not ‘increase shareholder value’ is itself unethical.


Since there are firms who specialize in this sort of thing, I think it’s possibly true, if not for that bank then surely other employers

I seem to remember reading that the economist who came up with that idea has since reversed his position.


As much as I want to believe it, and as much as it may be true to some extent, you’re absolutely right. This is a third-hand account from a likely-biased source. It seems probable that it’s being exaggerated at least a little.

Plausible alternative explanation: the “vulnerability index” exists, but is instead intended to determine who is more likely to steal. It’s not so much a “forget that guy’s promotion because he can’t afford to quit” as much as “if we give that guy access to privileged information and systems, there’s chance he’ll exploit it to pay off his massive debts”. I mean think about it - if you ran a bank and needed to fill a position with access to tens of millions of dollars worth of customer accounts, would it be safer to give it to the guy who’s one paycheck away from foreclosure and has four kids that he clearly can’t afford to send to college, or the guy who’s debt free? Knowing someone has a strong motive to commit a crime, it would be irresponsible to simply hand him opportunity.

We want this to be a big, evil system for maximizing exploitation. But it could just as easily be a fairly reasonable system for minimizing risk.


I think you’re on to something and the embezzlement risk angle is the likely cause of anything like this being set up. The problem then becomes the fact that human nature when combined with “business reality” creates a high secondary risk of abuse.


See, I can totally believe that a corporation would treat someone badly because they knew they needed the job, but to make a numerical index associated with it seems like a big mistake for exactly the reason the blog outlines - one day someone is going to leak it. I do wonder if you are right, though, since when I read “Vulnerability Index” I immediately though it would be something about how easily they thought an employee could be blackmailed or bribed.


I suspect that this sort of exploitation worked best in 2009. (Whether it took this exact calculated form, who knows, but certainly plenty of companies and organizations used the recession as an excuse to put the screws to their employees). It seems counter productive today. The job market still isn’t what it was, but neither is it as bad as it was. If you have employees who are worried about their mortgage and their kids and you use that as an excuse to not give them raises regardless of performance, dollars to donuts those employees are spending their lunch breaks browsing craigslist and hitting people up on linkedin.

I worked for an extraordinarily exploitative organization in 2009 which spent the next three years bragging about how it had managed to stem the tide of turnover (a 20 person office had gone through 80 employees between 2004-2008), but even in the absolute height of the recession, and almost entirely staffed by skin-of-their-teeth middle class workers with kids, turnover in three years still was 25 people or so. The worst economy in nearly a century, and the best they could do was slow down how quickly people were jumping ship.


I believe you are correct, but now that meme has, through the invisible hand, justified pumping ones own quarterly bonus by incentivising blind short term growth.


I have seen this first hand in several companies. It probably wasn’t a specific, calculated ‘index’, but there definitely was a certain method behind exploitation of employees. It became so obvious to me that there was a pattern (the people who needed the jobs the least were treated the best) that I even tested it.

I’m still not sure what drove me to do it, I think I just got sick of giving too much of myself, but there was this one job where I decided I would not reveal my real life situation. When actively asked, I would present a more carefree and privileged lifestyle: In reality, I was single, struggling to make ends meet in a decrepit bachelor apartment, saddled with a heavy debt from a nasty breakup. However, as far as my supervisors were concerned, I had a fiancé with a small child (he was only a friend), no debt, pretty stable future life plans, etc.

The result: I was treated as one of the star employees. It was a generally crappy job, but I was given most of the opportunities and privileges one could possibly expect from it. The bosses never had a bad word to say to or about me, gave me any days off I requested with a smile, even ‘upgraded’ me several times to work in the admin office- instead of the lowly general floor- where I enjoyed the same coffee breaks, cozy chit-chat and perks as the managers.

Meanwhile, a co-worker of mine had been with the company 15 years, was every bit as hard-working as myself (but with more experience) but her life situation was no secret: Single, in her late 40’s, living paycheck-to-paycheck. At some point, her doctor urged her to take a few extra days off due to a heart problem. The managers basically told her that they could replace her if she ‘didn’t need the job’ anymore. She was asking for the same number of days off that had been given to me no questions asked. Her only crime was that they knew how badly she needed the job and how difficult it would be, at her age and with her ailing health, to jump ship. This was not an isolated example. It was blatant that the most helpless and needy employees were getting the brunt of the expectations, discipline and brush-offs.

In a weird way, I feel relieved to see this phenomenon directly addressed because the behaviour was so egregious and vile that a part of me wondered whether I was being too cynical and imagining it.


A Vulnerability Index (VI) could also be useful in a number of non-exploitative ways. It seems like a well-defined value, and like any value, can be used for good as well as evil.

Individually, knowing your own VI could be useful when planning your life (as much as any of us can do that).

Collectively, a VI could be an indicator of social health. If a company has a high average VI, they’re probably not treating their employees well. Similarly, if a country has a high average VI, they’re not treating their people well. And a country which actually cares about their people could pass laws to limit how much companies can exploit their workers/customers based on things like a VI.


Really no big surprise there, at all.


Well, unless some of us are vice-presidents or executives, I suspect we wouldn’t be in the know.


It may be important to note that this is in Toronto and Peter is Canadian so this wasn’t happening in America (not that it couldn’t).


I assume you’ve never heard of Peter Watts or read him?