Since 2013, mortgage advisory has become an independent profession in the Netherlands. Initially working for mortgage providers, the newly nonpartisan advisers now work for standard advisory fees, thereby reducing conflicts of interest. In this article, I provide an ethical analysis of the different types of ethos of mortgage advisers, that is, the ways they see and talk about, and relate to their work in a certain way. The central research question is: What different kinds of ethos do mortgage advisers have, and which moral dilemmas do they experience in their advisory work? The existence of moral dilemmas is controversial in ethics but nonetheless experienced in real-world business practice. An “ethological” understanding of morality is developed in this paper to understand how these dilemmas are experienced. Twenty-nine mortgage advisers have participated in Q methodological research, a mixed qualitative–quantitative small-sample method. Three different types of ethos were found: Principled Advisers, Moral Advisers, and Minimal Morality Advisers. In considering these three types, I argue that many mortgage advisers should professionalize their ethical stance and learn to address situations in which moral values are neglected. Business ethicists, in turn, need to acknowledge that something may be considered morally inappropriate but is still defensible in some other sense. In this paper, I develop a “layered” conception of business ethics that broadens the perspective from universal notions, such as “rights” and “duties,” toward a concrete ethos that people have in a certain professional practice.

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Jelle van Baardewijk