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Extra! Extra! Professional Ethics News to the Fourth Estate

Marlene Shalton CFP Great BritainBy Marlene Shalton, CFP

Trust seems to be at an all-time low in the field of journalism here in the UK, due to the unethical stance of some newspaper reporters and the exposure of telephone hacking. What surprised me, listening to a recent discussion about it, is one journalist who defended the actions with regard to celebrities, who “were up for it anyway.”

To my mind, intrusion into people’s personal lives, often when they felt most vulnerable, is unethical, whoever it is. This led me to thinking about how our clients learn to trust us and what we need to do to ensure that we, as financial planners/advisers, are always ethical in our behaviour.

When our clients visit us for the first time, they can be feeling anxious and uncertain, particularly if they have preconceived ideas about financial advisers due to historically bad press and stories that trust may take time to build. Establishing this should be of the utmost priority in the initial client meeting and, if done quickly, can give clients much needed reassurance.

Financial Planning Clients Want Trust

Recently, some clients were referred to me who had been the victims of bad advice, and subsequently had lost an amount of money.  However, they knew they needed advice and were prepared to try again. This time they knew exactly what they were looking for and made this clear from the outset. But what they wanted most of all was to be able to trust an adviser. This, they told me was the most difficult aspect of their search.

First of all, it was important that I was open and transparent in my dealings with them, which you probably think goes without saying, but sometimes I think planners can take some of the processes for granted and not always explain matters as thoroughly and in words that the client can easily understand, as they should. Secondly, being upfront and volunteering information, particularly about the actual service and the charges related to it, even when they had not questioned it, is paramount.

It is too easy for us as advisers or financial planners to slip into our own financial jargon without checking that the clients clearly understand what they are letting themselves in for. Taking the interview at a pace they can cope with and giving opportunities for clarification and reassurance ensures an easier transition from prospect to client.

Encouraging an atmosphere of openness, and providing ready and honest answers, will put clients at their ease and make the whole experience more enjoyable for all concerned. Vague information or confusion about something like fees and charges, even if not intentional, just creates discomfort and lack of credibility in you.

Remember the Code of Ethics

I don’t believe that the majority of planners would ever intend to mislead or confuse their clients, but bad habits can easily prevent trust forming if we are not careful. As CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER professionals, we have a code of ethics that we should adhere to. Reading through these from time to time will help refresh our memories about the duty of care to our clients and to take care that our behaviour will always be beyond reproach.

Ethics conduct is a hallmark of any profession and it is a pity that some journalists do not realise this, as it would have saved many people much pain and distress. Members of professions including ours, not only owe duties to the public, but to the profession of financial planning itself and to other members.

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