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Trust & Ethics – A Never Ending Responsibility for Continuing Professional Development

Tobias Maag CFP BrazilBy: Tobias Maag, CFP

Ethics in the “real world” was the theme of Instituto Brasileiro de Certificação de Profissionais Financeiros’ (IBCPF) last continuing professional development event for 2011, focusing on the organization and implementation of ethics in a major financial institution, its scope, challenges and possible solutions.

The speaker, Mr. Deives Rezende Filho, has earned his insights and experience during the past decades working for several major financial institutions and other organizations. Deives is the ombudsman and head of the ethics department at Itaú-Unibanco group. The audience learned about processes, systems and organizational details of the complex setup of such a sector in a financial institution comprising more than 110,000 employees acting in various sectors and countries.

Complex Ethical Issues

The several real-life cases presented especially struck the audience’s attention. What sounded very human and rather simple at first sight, showed to often be rather complex to properly analyze and handle. Interpersonal issues in big organizations seem to dominate a relevant part of the department’s agenda, and can be pretty challenging within set ethical standards, considering all stakeholders. Various examples were given related to moral and sexual harassment, abuse of power, conflicts of interest, discrimination and others. One example, to which the audience of about 100 attendees paid strong attention, was the case of a young man who decided to change gender. One insight was to look for adequate solutions, rather than letting prejudice take over. This space is too short in order to enter in all details that had to be considered, and the steps taken to deal appropriately with all somehow touched by this decision.

Some examples of “typical” misconduct within the financial services industry were also given, including issues related to several of IBCPF’s code of conduct principles and rules. This profession is still under development, and it is often not clear if misconduct is due to lack of knowledge and ignorance, or rather an objective search for direct or indirect undue, and not transparent, personal advantages.

The following Q&A session brought up some of the questions most pressing to the CFP professionals who attended. This included, for example, perceived conflicts between “real life” (deadlines, objectives, priorities, pressure for margins, etc..) and the codes principles, like putting first clients interest, disclosure issues and others.

Applying Ethics To The Profession

The presentation brought the discussion to the level of the “spirit” of our, or any, code of ethics and conduct, rather than simply relating to the wording and semantic aspects. This view will become increasingly important for the sustainable development of small CFP professional communities, such as the one in Brazil, and the aim to develop the profession. As we know, in our profession, technical skills can be learned or “outsourced.” Nevertheless, the most relevant part of it cannot. This is very much about Trust, for which a sound ethical spirit and conduct are fundamental.

Many people talk about ethics, but both clients and professionals are often tempted by the apparent quick and easy benefits of those who promise results not reachable by the path of any reasonable standard of truth and reality. This takes us not only to the nature of human beings, but also to organizational, regulatory and other issues, such as the discussion about “optimal models” regarding remuneration, which might be an issue for a next posting by this blogger and comments from readers.

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