Mark Rogers, wealth planner at Succession Wealth, argues that when it comes to a delivering a client-centric financial planning service, the only way is ethics
The professionalism and ethics of the financial services sector is always a hot topic and the debate still rages on. We still get so-called financial scandals reported in both the national and financial press on a regular basis and, to a large extent, this is down to rogue individuals and out-of-date selling practices. It is nice to see that government and regulators are taking this seriously and trying to crack down on cold calling, but should it really be solely down to them? Surely, alignment to a professional body and the embodiment of that professional body’s ethics is the way to take this forward effectively?
The ethics of financial planning and the ethics of investing are very much mutually intertwined, and both must be addressed or we risk being accused of abject hypocrisy
A Code Of Conduct
Let’s take the Chartered Institute for Securities Investments (CISI) as an example. I have to state my interest because I am now the President of the Birmingham/West Midlands Branch and I am very looking forward to my two-year tenure in office.
The CISI has a clear code of conduct which establishes a set of principles to which all members are expected to adhere.
The overall aim of the CISI is to “set standards of professional excellence and integrity for securities, investment, wealth and financial planning professionals, providing qualifications and promoting the highest level of competence to our members, individuals and firms”.
I would say this just about sums it up!
To be a profession we must take professional qualifications seriously and we also have to ensure that those professional qualifications are updated every year to keep abreast of all relevant changes.
One idea would be for financial planning companies to “pass over” their CPD Training & Competence to the professional body which, to be quite frank, is far better resourced to provide a complete and comprehensive programme than most financial planning firms. It could be then made a condition of employment that any issues with the professional body would be a significant adverse Key Performance Indicator (KPI). The only debatable problem here is which is the most relevant professional body to which to align yourself?
Attracting New Entrants Into The Profession
It is also undeniable that we need to have and encourage apprenticeship and graduate programmes designed to professionally train our young talent to do things in a proper and professional way. These are very costly and, again, this is where the professional body can help. I have seen many companies attempting to re-invent the wheel where a suitable and well-resourced programme has already been set up.
The problem is finding and retaining this talent due to the obvious competition from the other professional practices and bodies which include the accountancy and legal professions.
We must make the recruitment of young professionals a main priority for any worthwhile change of culture and ensure that these young people are networking with each other on a very regular basis so that they can all take in a great number of ideas.
Cross-pollination of ideas with other professionals will also validate the recognition of financial planning as a worthwhile career path and aid the retention of top individuals.
Technology plays a great role in this, but this is challenged by GDPR and, again, has to be harnessed to best effect.
If the ethics are right, the client outcome will be right
The Ethics Of Investing
We have talked about the ethics within the implementation of financial planning, but we also need to address the ethics of investing. This means the development and implementation of suitable environmental, sustainable and corporate governance policy with our investment decisions and ensuring we enhance our outlook in client investment solutions to keep abreast of this.
Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) refers to the three central factors in measuring the sustainability and ethical impact of an investment in a company or business. These criteria help to better determine the future financial performance of companies (return and risk). The ethics of financial planning and the ethics of investing are very much mutually intertwined, and both must be addressed or we risk being accused of abject hypocrisy.
For this very important reason we also need to ensure that our own companies are keeping up-to-date with modern thinking, especially in the context of corporate governance. It is right and proper that we run an all-inclusive, individual empowering strategy to get the best out of all employees. It is also right and proper that we give back to the community we serve, and that staff are encouraged to support these initiatives very actively. How many companies have an active charitable giving policy and organisational structure to support this? Are employees encouraged and incentivised to take part in charitable activities? All of this undoubtedly seeks to encourage proper social behaviour.
It is, therefore, beholden to the leaders within the professional financial planning community and the companies themselves to keep the inspirational flame of professional financial planning forever alight. This will be practitioner-led, people-driven and technology-focused (in the words of the CISI) but comes down to individual practitioners looking at themselves in the mirror (in the words of Michael Jackson!).
Doing The Right Thing
One of the most influential articles that I read at the start of my journey on the long and winding road of financial planning was right at the very start when I was studying for FPC 1. The text book said that there were many times when you are alone in your decision-making and there will be times when people are not checking your work.
However, it stressed that you (and you alone) know whether you have done the right thing for the client and whether you have acted in the client’s best interests. This should be every financial planning professional’s main motivation.
Thankfully, most practices now have four to six pairs of eyes looking at process and advice on an ongoing basis, but it is still down to the individuals themselves to ensure that they are acting in the client’s best interests and striving for the highest standards of integrity, qualifications and competence. If the ethics are right, the client outcome will be right. And, after all, if we can get that important element right then everything else should fall into place. It’s in our hands.
About Mark Rogers
Mark is a Wealth Planner with Succession Wealth in Birmingham, and President of the CISI Birmingham / West Midlands Region.
He is the former Managing Director of Clay Rogers & Partners Ltd and has 37 years’ experience in Financial Services.