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Missionaries vs. Mercenaries

By Mark DiGiovanni, CFP

I suspect that most of the writers and readers of Financial Planet are some of the best examples of the financial planning profession. You wouldn’t spend the time on this site if you weren’t looking to make yourself a better example of what it means to be a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER professional.  That being the case, I may be preaching to the choir in this column.  However, it has been my experience that the choir can send a very powerful message. 

There is only one recorded instance of Jesus losing his temper, which was when he drove the money changers from the temple.  It was not that Jesus was against the act of money changing, or against free enterprise in general; He simply refused to allow greed and materialism to infect and corrupt a place where people assembled to find something more meaningful.

Those who cloak themselves in the mantle of “financial planner” in order to peddle product or prey off the emotional weaknesses of others are like those money changers.  They infect a noble profession by claiming to be a part of it when, in fact, if they could not get away with hijacking our profession for their own selfish purposes, they would likely be working as bookies or used car salesmen.

Every one of us who center our professional lives around our first professional commandment to always put the clients’ interests first pay the price for the shysters, con men, and just plain lazy asses who claim to do what we do.  They erode public confidence to the point that people are afraid to seek advice from anyone because the risk of picking the wrong advisor is just too high.  Even those who know us and trust us can’t help but have their faith shaken every time a news story breaks about some “financial planner” selling a high-risk “investment” to an eighty-year-old and using the proceeds to buy a Porsche.

Enough!

I say enough!  It’s time to stop expecting FINRA, the SEC, or a suddenly-informed public to stop the vermin who exploit the financial planning profession for their own gain. This is our profession.  We are the ones who earn the CFP designation, we are the ones who maintain that certification, we are the ones who always put the clients’ interests first, and we are the ones who have raised financial planning to the level of a true profession, all the while burdened by the ballast of hordes of parasites.

I say enough!  This is our profession, and we have to be the ones to take it back.  We have to start by calling out those who aren’t true financial planners.  If someone isn’t a CFP, yet they call themselves a financial planner, call them on it.  Let them know they may be a stock broker, insurance agent, whatever, but until you take the time and make the effort to earn the CFP designation (which, if nothing else, is a show of respect to the profession), then do not use the term financial planner or any other title that imitates that you are more than you really are.

High Ethics and High Income

Some of you may work in organizations that tolerate or even encourage the kind of behavior that prevents us from becoming a true profession in the eyes of the public.  If that is the case, and you cannot change the organization from within, then you owe it to yourself and to your profession to find a place where you won’t have to compromise your principles.  High ethics and high income are not mutually exclusive.  High ethics are, in fact, the foundation for a sustained high income.

The coming year is likely to be momentous for many reasons.  We should make it momentous in the financial planning profession by taking the battle to those who exploit us in order to exploit others.  The battle that begins in 2012 is the Missionaries vs. the Mercenaries.  Let the battle begin!

2 comments to Missionaries vs. Mercenaries

  • Jagbir Singh, CFP

    I agree with your article.

    But, it’s difficult to educate the client.

    Our personal experience (in Orissa, India) is not very encouraging. After we disclose our fee, the client prefers to walk away and deal with “agents” who call themselves as “financial planners” & thrive on misselling and rebating.

    Client seem happy with the kick-back & since he is mis-sold a long-term insurance product – it would take him years before he realizes his mistake.

    • Jagbir,

      It is frustrating when you have to compete with people who won’t play by the rules. U.S. laws about rebating and kickbacks may be tougher than in India, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen to an alarming degree. The best we can do is maintain our integrity and point out the charlatans when we find them.

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